Boy, time sure does fly, huh?
Did you know that Kieran Gibbs is turning 26 this week? 26! It seems like yesterday when Arsenal fans were still touting him as an up-and-coming talent, with his devilish pace and positive attitude in possession. Sure, he looked like he subsisted on a diet of kale and water, but he seemed destined to follow in the foot-steps of Kenny Sansom, Nigel Winterburn and Ashley Cole. Arsenal fans had similar hopes for Gael Clichy, but those were scuppered by his move to Manchester City in 2011 – Gibbs’ path was now clear.
Four years on from Clichy’s departure, Gibbs has yet to ever truly convince as the full-time starter. He has had his moments – THAT block on Billy Jones to get Arsenal into the Champions League in 2012, his juicy volley against Swansea (courtesy of a lovely Olivier Giroud chipped flick) – but he’s yet to take his game to the next level.
Defensively he gets caught out too often, and his end product offensively isn’t good enough to justify his voluminous forays up the pitch. Ten assists in 8,209 minutes (Premier League only, it’s roughly equal to 91 full games) is a paltry return for someone who ignores his defensive duties so often – just think back to his performance at Stoke City last December.
That game in particular signalled his departure from the first-team. Since the, Nacho Monreal, originally signed from Malaga in January 2013 as a back-up, has definitely made the position his own. Not nearly the pure athlete Gibbs is, Monreal used his time as a deputy CB to hone his defensive instincts. Once roundly derided as…
Monreal, you are utter wank. That is all.
— Dan Lean (@leand2) November 9, 2014
A quick update on Monreal: he's shite.
— Sam J. Frampton (@SJFrampton) November 29, 2014
but now he’s…
Nah please don't let Monreal leave. He's been brilliant
— George (@GeorgeRobbins10) August 31, 2015
Monreal has been brilliant for Arsenal.
— Modern Romeo (@Edenicle) September 19, 2015
In the last year, Arsenal’s defence has racked up clean sheets, finding calm where there was once utter chaos. Many have been quick to point to Francis Coquelin’s insertion into the squad as the catalyst behind Arsenal’s new-found solidity at the back, but I believe Monreal’s been important in his own right.
What he lacks in pace, he makes up with intelligent positioning at the back and well-timed runs forward. His relationship with his countryman Santi Cazorla has been a delight to watch, as the Spaniards effortlessly combined near the left touchline.
Monreal’s passing, in particular, oozes control, aids Arsenal’s balance in midfield and makes him a useful outlet from the back. Gibbs, on the contrary, always seems like he’s in a rush, either running up the pitch without a useful outlet infield or rushing passes under pressure. Too often in the past Arsenal would have the likes of Gibbs, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain playing in the side together. Lots of talent between those three, but too much indiscipline and loss of possession up the field often ended very poorly for the Gunners.
Monreal turns 30 in February, and Gibbs is at the point in his career where he is what he is, a decent LB, but probably not a starter for a team with title aspirations. With no young LB in the squad or youth set-up to eventually replace Monreal as he ages and is sold, it is up to Arsene Wenger to take a long, hard look at Gibbs and decide whether he can finally rise to the challenge. I’m unconvinced he is.
*All stats courtesy of Transfermarkt