Arsenal have recovered from taking only one point from their opening two matches and they are now being talked about as potential title contenders. They have been nearly at that level for the last few years, but their squad is now mature and they could finally be about to deliver the title that supporters are desperate for. The left-back position is one of the weaker in the side, which is why the performance of Kieran Gibbs was so encouraging on Saturday. Although Nacho Monreal is a consistent performer, he lacks the talent to influence matches in attack. On Saturday, Gibbs delivered a complete full-back performance and was one of the best players on the pitch.
Gibbs is still seen as a young player, but that isn’t the case. He is now 27 and he needs to begin playing more regularly as he should be in the peak of his career. At Arsenal, he has slipped behind Monreal over the last year, but he could now be ready to become the club’s first choice left-back once more. This was Gibbs’ first Premier League start of the season and the England international grabbed his opportunity to impress. Although critics will point to the quality of the opposition, Gibbs did enough to earn another chance to start for the next game at least.
His attacking performance was good, but he should also be commended for how assured he was at the back. The 27-year-old read the game well and was rarely caught out of possession, showing how his game has developed despite not featuring prominently in the first team. He did attack well, but he knew the correct times to stay back as well and that is a quality that few full-backs have. The left-back finished the match with two successful tackles and two interceptions, a good return against a side that didn’t have much of the ball.
Since breaking through as a first team player, Gibbs has improved a lot physically and is now able to compete in the air. He won five of his nine defensive aerial duels, meaning that he ended the match with the second most successful aerial duels on the pitch. This has been one of the reasons why Monreal has been in the team ahead of him, as teams can look to isolate Arsenal’s full backs in the air.
The most impressive part to Gibbs’ game is his attacking quality. He has a lot of pace combined with relentless energy, making him a nuisance to deal with for opposition defenders. It was clear on Saturday that Gibbs offers more attacking support than Monreal. He finished the match with an assist after a superb cross for Olivier Giroud’s first goal. On another day, he could have added a goal to his impressive performance as he smashed the post from a tight angle. It would have been the icing on the cake for the left-back to mark his return to the starting eleven.
Arsenal have a settled starting eleven this season and Arsene Wenger won’t want to mess with that unless he completely has to. However, Kieran Gibbs is one of the few squad players that could break into the first team as the season progresses. He showed on Saturday that he is an able replacement for Monreal, while his energy and attacking support could see him emerge as Wenger’s preference in the position. A lot will depend on where Alexis Sanchez plays this season. If he remains as a number nine, it could be that Wenger wants to play a more attacking full-back to support the inexperienced Alex Iwobi on the left today. That would be a good choice on days like today when his young winger is kept quiet, as Arsenal will still carry a threat down the left. Gibbs shouldn’t be considered the first choice full-back, but his performance has certainly given his manager food for thought.