When the season started we expected the likes of Randall and Merida to make an impact in the first team. Neither however succeeded on that front, in fact the player who took his chance and has leapfrogged these players is Kieran Gibbs.
With Armand Traore on loan, most people expected Silvestre to understudy Clichy, but injuries to Silvestre opened the door for Gibbs.
Gibbs started his life at Arsenal as a winger, though Wenger has turned him into a left-back. Gibbs is not like our normal left-backs, from Sammy Nelson through to Gael Clichy, they have all been short, he is tall and strong, and he will not lose out on many physical battles. Having been a winger, he is comfortable going forward and his crosses are perfect. I doubt either Clichy or Sagna would have been able to deliver the cross that enabled Walcott to score against Chelsea.
Gibbs made one costly error, a slip against Manchester United, other than that, he has played well and has not be overawed by the situation he has found himself in. Gibbs has improved so much that he is Stuart Pearce’s first choice for left-back in the under-21 team.
Gibbs will push Clichy next season and within two seasons he will pose Wenger a dilemma, does he give Gibbs the left-back slot or does he sell England’s next left-back. There are even some commentators who are saying that Kieran could be a surprise choice by Capello for next years World Cup squad.
One thing is for sure, Gibbs will become a great left-back and he will be the first of many talents to come through our academy system.
For the last three seasons Gael Clichy has been our number three with little competition for the left back position. Clichy has not been a rock and there are many aspects of his game that need working on.
Clichy does not like crossing the half-way line. Clichy is blessed with great speed, but does not put it to great effect going forward. There is no confidence once he is in the opposition’s half. He does not cut in, which makes him predictable, whilst his crossing is laughable.
Defensively, Clichy is a good tenacious defender. He uses his speed to great effect, but has been known to have lapses in concentration. These lapses have started to become more and more common. This does not help the other defenders, who need to be able to rely on the young Frenchman.
Over the last three years Clichy has not improved, but has either stayed the same and in some respects gone backwards. It is no surprise that he is not considered to be worthy of a place in France squad.
There are question marks over whether or not Clichy can develop further or whether he has reached his limit. If it is the latter, this season we have seen the introduction of a young English defender, who will become a great left back for Arsenal and England.
Kieran Gibbs has played 21 games for us this season as a left-back. Apart from one slip against Manchester United the youngster has done us proud. He has never shirked his responsibility, having come through against all sorts of opponents. He played very well in the FA Cup semi-final, creating our only goal.
Gibbs is a break from our normal left-backs in that he is a tall player. No longer do opposing teams single out the left back for a long ball. Having started his career as a left-winger, he is blessed great speed, athleticism, and does not panic once he crosses the half-way line. He is the best crosser of balls out of our four full-backs (Sagna, Eboue and Clichy). He cuts in from the flanks causing defenders problems and will also make the overlapping run.
Gibbs has some aspects of his defensive game which he needs to work on, but he is only 19 years old and has learnt a lot this season. The other plus point is that Gibbs is an academy graduate; the fans love to see “our” boys make the grade.
Gibbs might be ready for a regular place for the whole season, but there is not much to choose between Gibbs and Clichy and Clichy is 25 years old in July.
Gael Clichy will be out of action for three weeks. He will miss the league games against Wigan Athletic, Liverpool and Middlesbrough, the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea and the Champions League return leg against Villarreal and the first leg of the Champions League semi final (if we qualify).
Wenger’s dilemma is who he picks to deputise for Clichy, who though has been solid for most of the season, has not had a great season and has been caught out of position too often.
Wenger can go for experience in Mikael Silvestre, who spent most of his Manchester United career at left-back. When Silvestre joined he hoped he would play as a centre-back. Silvestre will give us experience at left-back that is for sure, but what else would he offer. His performances for Arsenal have not been the best; they have coincided with games that we have conceded more goals and lost more games.
Whilst you cannot place the entire fault at one player, if that player is inexorably weak, then the buck must stop with that person. A defence needs all four of its members to perform, there can be no passengers and for me Silvestre is a passenger.
He will offer very little going forward and will be torn to pieces at the back. It will not help him with Arshavin playing in front of him. The Russian rarely tracks back, leaving an extra burden on the full-back.
Arsene’s only other option is rookie left-back Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs has played in the Carling Cup and all the FA Cup ties this season and has not looked out of place. The opposition were Championship sides plus Wigan and Hull. Gibbs is a tenacious defender, good in the air and because he was formerly a winger, he has speed and is good at crossing the ball, something neither Clichy nor Sagna have mastered this season.
I would not be fearful of Gibbs playing on Saturday against Wigan nor on Wednesday against Villarreal. I believe he will cope admirably against both teams. There will no onus on us pushing forward in either game; these games can be used by Arsene to see how he copes under intense pressure. He can than decide whether to play him against Chelsea in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the league.
I believe that Wenger will plump for the experience of Silvestre over the youth of Gibbs. I have not been a Silvestre fan from the time he joined us and have seen nothing in his performances to change my mind, all I hope is that if he does get the nod over Gibbs, our fortune with him in the team changes.
Four seasons ago Arsenal “acquired” from AS Monaco a young left-back. The deal was kept quiet as Monaco were not happy with Arsenal’s methods, the transfer was sorted out as part of the Adebayor transfer and Armand Traore started to play football for Arsenal.
Traore is lightening quick, quicker than Clichy and that is saying something. Traore made his Arsenal debut against West Brom, he went on to play a further seven games and was our left-back in the Carling Cup final against Chelsea. Was Traore going to provide the cover we so badly needed for Clichy who had to play every game? Would Traore develop into a better left-back than Clichy?
Well Traore was always better going forward than defending. Arsene persisted with him at left-back, but following two big defeats last season against Tottenham and Manchester United in the Carling Cup and FA Cup respectively, Arsene had second thoughts. The young Frenchman spent the rest of the season playing as a left-winger in the reserves. Arsene then showed his hand when Traore came on as a sub towards the end of last season as a winger. Traore’s future had been decided, he will be a winger with pace, a mean cross, but he will need to develop his trickery.
With this in mind Armand Traore was sent to Portsmouth in August to spend a year on loan to develop his game. At Portsmouth, Traore has played as a winger. Whilst at Portsmouth he has been a regular, earning some great reviews.
His major problem is what he will do next season. Arsenal has Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky, Wilshere, and Walcott and arguably Eboue who will all contest the two wide berths. I do not see Traore breaking that cartel next season. There are some rumours that Harry Redknapp is interested in signing him on a permanent basis at Tottenham. I do not see Arsene or the Arsenal hierarchy being too willing to do business with our arch rivals, even if they offer us £6 million. A more logical route will be for Traore to spend another season on loan at a Premiership club. He will then have two seasons experience at the top level; he will be 21 years old and then ready to fight for his place in the team.
The story of our current left-back understudy has been the reverse. Kieran
Gibbs started as a left-winger, again great pace, athletic, but as an attacking wide player he had the tricks and skills to go past opponents, furthermore, unlike some of his fellow full-backs, he can cross the ball.
Kieran is a product of our youth academy and made his debut against Sheffield United in September 2007. Arsene took the decision that Gibbs was better suited to playing as a left-back. This is probably because as a former left-winger he knew how to attack, was not afraid to shoot and will in the long-run give more offensively than Clichy. Gibbs has been our left-back in the Carling Cup, but more importantly has played all three FA Cup matches, plus he replaced Gale Clichy against Tottenham in the recent game.
Gibbs has not looked phased at having to play at left-back. He has a few things to work on defensively as he has only come against Championship teams, the real test will be when he exposed to Premiership attackers.
Unlike our recent set of left-backs, Clichy, Cole, Sylvinho, Winterburn, Sansom, Kieran Gibbs is tall, no longer will teams be able to place their centre forward against him and expect him to win everything in the air. If Gibbs is patient, and he looks like a lad with his head screwed on, and he learns the art of defending, he will replace Clichy in a couple of seasons. He has the attacking attributes that have been missing from that flank.
The Arsenal fans will take to Kieran Gibbs as they always give extra support to boys that come through the ranks. When Gibbs establishes himself in the team it will be another nail in the coffin of the Wenger knockers who like to point out that he is unable to nurture and develop young English players.