How Kieran Gibbs must regret his decision to go on holiday during this international break.
When Ryan Bertrand pulled out of the England squad due to injury, Gibbs was presented with an opportunity to stake his own claim for a place. Unfortunately, he was already en route to America. Gibbs’ slim chances of a place at the Euros now seem even more remote.
From the outside, it does seem a little odd that Gibbs chose to continue his break rather than return to train with the national side. Perhaps if he felt he had a more realistic chance of making the final squad, he would have been more inclined to cancel his trip. The unfortunate reality is that Gibbs must recognise he has fallen almost entirely out of contention.
It’s easy enough to understand why. The left-back has not found first-team football easy to come by of late.
After beginning last season marginally ahead of Nacho Monreal in Arsene Wenger’s preferred pecking order, he has since been comprehensively leap-frogged by the Spaniard. In the current campaign, Gibbs has started just three Premier League games, and one of those was in midfield.
Monreal’s sheer consistency has made him particularly difficult to displace. When looking at the two players side-by-side, the former Malaga man is superior in most areas. He is certainly better both in the air and in the tackle. While he was formerly more conservative going forward, he has now developed an effective partnership with Alexis Sanchez on the left flank, overlapping and getting to the byline more regularly than ever before.
The one area where Gibbs definitely excels above Monreal is his speed. He’s significantly quicker than the Spaniard, both with and without the ball. However, from a defensive point of view Monreal’s excellent positioning allows him to compensate.
There’s also a question of balance. Having begun his career as a left-winger, Gibbs is imbued with natural attacking instincts. However, it’s simply too cavalier to field both Gibbs and Hector Bellerin, who effectively plays as an auxiliary winger. With both full-backs so high up the field, Arsenal are far too open to being hit on the counter-attack. Monreal’s dogged discipline provides vital protection.
Gibbs might well have evolved sufficient defensive nous to offer that kind of equilibrium. However, he has not developed as well as expected. When he initially broke into the side as a teenager, the excitement over him was largely derived from his obvious potential. His skill and athleticism sparked hopes he could follow in the footsteps of Ashley Cole to become a true world class full-back.
Unfortunately, Gibbs hasn’t quite kicked on since then. Injuries have played their part, but there’s more to it than that: his At the outset of next season, Gibbs will turn 27. These ought to be the peak years of his career, yet his star appears to be on the wane.
He is approaching the period of his career when it’s absolutely essential he plays regular first-team football—and to do that, he may need to leave Arsenal. Gibbs is an Arsenal product and loves the club he joined after the Wimbledon academy disbanded in 2004, but he must recognise that the lack of opportunities is beginning to seriously hurt his progress.
There would surely be no lack of takers. Despite the deceleration in his development, Gibbs remains a capable Premier League left-back who would be an upgrade for many clubs. His Englishness also means Arsenal could afford to charge a premium for his services.
Moving Gibbs on could suit Arsenal too.
Monreal will be 31 next season, so the Gunners must soon begin thinking about a long-term replacement. If that isn’t to be Gibbs, then they must make room for a new man in the squad.
Barring a dramatic series of injuries, Gibbs will not be taking part in the Euros this summer. If he wants to have any chance of regaining his international status, he should spend that time working on finding a new club where he can play more regularly.
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