Originally posted on Goonersphere
At first glance, with Kieran Gibbs making 20 appearances and Nacho Monreal making 24 At the time of writing, you could be forgiven for thinking our international left-backs were on an even keel. This season has changed that.
Kieran Gibbs is Nacho first choice left-back.
Apologies for the dire pun. What I was trying to illustrate via horrendous wordplay is that Nacho Monreal has dislodged the Englishman who had the position on apparent lockdown – and he deserves the plaudits which should ensue.
Monreal hasn’t benefitted from an injury to his left-sided rival. Our Spaniard has put Gibbs on the bench through hard work adapting to the Premiership and proving to be an ever-reliable player both defensively and offensively.
The man bought from Malaga was bought in 2013 as the man to push Kieran Gibbs onto the next level. As competition that would enhance Gibbs’s talents and force him to improve to keep a fully-fledged Spanish international on the sidelines.
Initially, all went to plan. It appeared that Gibbs had finally shaken off the injury woes that threatened to curtail his career and he was stringing together impressive performances which culminated in Gibbs winning the battle to start the F.A Cup Final.
1-0 to Gibbs it would seem. With hindsight though, did Kieran Gibbs keep out Monreal through his displays or was he simply less erroneous than a startled Nacho?
It is now common knowledge that Monreal suffered at the start of his Gunners career as the pace and power of the Premiership were a shock to the system of Nacho who was targeted by opposing teams due to his lack of diligence regarding his defensive positioning. Forgive me for my heresy though, but isn’t that the exact same whip we are using to lash Gibbs with this season?
Doesn’t that indicate a lesson not learned by our Englishman? In terms of being an attacking supplement in the team, they can both claim to be a vital outlet whenever called upon. Both players are quite frankly an asset when it comes to providing our attacking players with another option to widen the field of play.
It has always come down to the defensive side of play to judge between our left-back’s. Last season, whilst Monreal found his feet, Gibbs was primarily used and we found to our cost that he still hasn’t fine tuned the best time to forge forward and when to hedge his bets. To Gooners chagrin – Gibbs left his marker or his left-sided partner open with abundant regularity. In fact, he defends much in the same mould of Bellerin – one vs one, he can take the ball from an opponents toe with a primely-timed tackle. give him a line to hold or to show some maturity regarding the amount of attacking he does, then the fallout could be devastating.
All the while, Monreal, despite vociferous calls for him not to play whenever he was on the team sheet, improved game by game.
All the evidence on how good Monreal is and why he has usurped the player he was meant to improve can be seen in the matches Nacho played when used as an emergency centre-back.
Faultless for the majority of the goals conceded – though they were at a premium – Nacho showed a cool tactical head when playing in an unfamiliar position and alien requirements compared to his native slot. His aerial prowess was almost on a par with Debuchy’s and his stock rose sharply with every assured minute he was on the pitch helping his ailing team.
Let us not forget though, that while Nacho was heroically putting out fires in the centre of defence, this allowed Gibbs to once more take the left-back position and help Nacho shore up the left side of defence. Gibbs is still a fantastic player and could yet be Arsenal’s first choice left-back for the foreseeable future. The problem he has is shared with Theo and Jack.
The potential these boys have is gargantuan – but thanks to relentless injury problems and surgeries to cure these ailments, these players haven’t gone on to nurture the talent they undoubtedly have. From a distance, it appears that they have stood still for a few seasons whilst others such as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud have markedly improved the weak areas of their game through hard work on the training ground.
Jack, Theo and Kieran aren’t awful players – they are simply frustrating. The age they are at now, the sporadic displays they put in which actually showcase how good they are, shouldn’t be sporadic. They should be changing games with abandon and assembling a run of games which give no quarter to critique. These players aren’t doing that.
Gibbs has improved. To say he is above Monreal though, is a fallacy and dangerous. Monreal is rightfully our first choice as he has shown he can put those run of faultless games together. Gibbs still gets caught out. He must push on next season and learn from his rival. If he can sew up the small holes in his armour then he not only gets the first choice mantle at Arsenal, but he would be peerless for England too.
Let us hope that he uses this negative experience as a catalyst and pushes on as we all know he can do, otherwise he may be surplus to requirements.