Left Back In The Dressing Room: Are Gibbs And Santos Past Their Sell-By Date?

Arsenal fans have been promised at least one more signing before the transfer window closes on the 31st August. Not for the first time, Wenger is playing his cards close to his chest but is it time for him to turn his attention to a new left back?
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The growing concerns about Arsenal’s lack of attacking threat have overshadowed another major weakness in their first team options, namely the lack of an established and reliable left back.

Having lost their bullish holding midfielder, Alex Song,  the majority of transfer speculation has revolved around bringing in a like-for-like replacement (M’Villa, Sahin etc.). Fans seem to be ignoring the surplus of talent in central midfield, even taking into account the loss of Song and the perennial injury to Arsenal’s captain-to-be, Jack Wilshere.

Eyebrows were raised when Wenger mentioned that he was chasing a defender in the wake of Song’s departure  but this is hardly surprising given the unconvincing displays of both Santos and Gibbs last season. The former looks like an aspiring left-winger and the injury-prone latter has started to try the patience of the Emirates faithful after frequently being caught out of position.

Eyebrows were raised when Wenger mentioned that he was chasing a defender in the wake of Song’s departure

Since the glory days of Pat Rice and Viv Anderson Arsenal have always prided themselves on their strength in both full back positions. Ashley Cole was widely recognised as the best left back in the premiership during his time at Highbury and Lauren, although never considered much of a flare player, was a safe pair of hands at right back. Both players made 32 appearances during the 2003-2004 campaign and formed the bedrock of the “Invincibles” back line.

A large part of the success enjoyed by Pires and Ljungberg during this era can be attributed to the unceasing support of Lauren and Cole, which took any defensive burden off their shoulders. When playing on the right, Walcott has no excuse in this regard, since the excellent Bacary Sagna’s defensive abilities are more than adequate. The left is a different story. Gervinho is repeatedly forced to track back in order to cover the wayward Gibbs and I can’t imagine Podolski would fare any better in the same role.

Assuming Wenger has entered the market for a replacement left back, who would fit the bill?:

  1. Taye Taiwo: Wenger is a known admirer of the AC Milan left back and tried to sign him when he was at Marseille. At the age of 27, he brings a wealth of experience at the top level.
  2. Aly Cissokho: Pacey with decent stamina, the French international is very much in the Wenger mould.
  3. Leighton Baines: The Englishman has consistently been linked with a move to The Emirates over the last few seasons and was rumoured to be part of the initial deal for Arteta. Everton’s financial troubles could grease the wheels of any transfer and the money raised from the sale of RVP and Song would cover what would probably be an inflated price tag.

This might all seem a bit knee-jerk though and there is an equally compelling case for giving Gibbs and Santos another chance to prove their credentials. There were times last season when the Arsenal defence looked more like a game of musical chairs than a force to be reckoned with and if it hadn’t been for the heroics of Szczesny then the spotlight would currently be sharply directed at our frailties in defence.

The importance of consistency in this area was underlined by the four consecutive victories over tough opposition in February and March (Spurs, Liverpool, Newcastle and Everton). In all four cases, Wenger fielded a first choice back four (Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelan – Gibbs) and proceeded to reap the rewards. To a certain extent, this is a tried and tested combination which any new signing would disrupt. Gibbs is only 22 (only one year older than Cole when he hit his prime) and it would be premature to dismiss him as a lost cause.

Gibbs is only 22 (only one year older than Cole when he hit his prime) and it would be premature to dismiss him as a lost cause.

In any case, it would require a marquee signing in excess of the €7 million spent on Santos to instantly displace Gibbs from the team and it is hard to imagine Baines, a player on the fringes of his national team and with a patchy defensive record, providing the Midas touch.

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