Two years ago, Arsenal were in a similar position to the one they find themselves in today.
A daunting last 16 Champions League game against the holders of the competition lay ahead, but the Premier League looked wide open with Arsenal in the hunt for the title. Much of the squad is the same, but the first choice defence has changed.
Flanking Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny then, Arsenal had Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs. Today’s partnership of Héctor Bellerín and Nacho Monreal is not only impressive, it’s here to stay.
At 29, Monreal is no youngster but he still has some great football left in him and that’s why his efforts have been awarded with a new contract. Now at Manchester City, Sagna is playing excellently this season and turns 33 next month – there’s no reason Monreal can’t be Arsenal’s first choice left-back three years from now.
After establishing himself in Gibbs’ place just over a year ago, the Spaniard has been excellent all season and there’s no way he’s losing his place again. That poses an issue for Gibbs, whose 2013/14 season was the most impressive of his career.
With Arsenal reportedly on the lookout for a young player who could eventually (in theory) take Monreal’s place*, where does that leave Gibbs? The prospect of never being first choice must be a concerning one.
*the Gunners have been linked with young Leicester City left-back Ben Chilwell.
Already 26 and by no means a ‘prospect’ anymore, Gibbs has had plenty of trouble staying fit in the past. Now injury free, he finds Monreal blocking his path into the side. This season he’s been limited to substitute appearances as a makeshift winger and starts in cup games. With England’s left-back spot up for grabs, it can’t be enough for him.
Perhaps Gibbs will wait for his chance to usurp Monreal but, given the Spaniard’s form over the last 18 months, it’s hard to see one arising. Even if (touch wood) Monreal picked up a knock, Gibbs would have to perform unbelievably well to keep his place. Should a young defender like Chilwell come in, his days at Arsenal may be numbered.
Very few academy graduates make it as far as Gibbs has at Arsenal, and it would be a real shame to see him leave. However, with Monreal signing a new deal and young defenders being targeted for the future, it may be the best thing for him.