Can Arsenal rely on Kieran Gibbs to fill Gael Clichy’s boots?
Young English left-back to get his chance, or should Arsene Wenger buy?
While uncertainty surrounds many issues at the Emirates ahead of next season, one thing is certain: Arsenal will need to find a new regular left-back.
Gael Clichy’s departure to Manchester City, which was confirmed on Monday in a �7m deal, has vacated a position in the Gunners’ back four.
Kieran Gibbs is the obvious replacement to step up and make the position his own, much as Clichy did when Ashley Cole decamped to Chelsea in 2006.
Clichy was just 20 then and did not immediately make the position his own, but Gibbs is now 21 and is ready to stake his claim.
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Injuries have hampered his progress in recent seasons and also ruled him out of this summer’s Under-21 European Championships.
In 2009-10 he had made seven starts in the autumn and was pushing Clichy hard for his place when a broken metatarsal in November effectively ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
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Last season started with a senior England debut at the age of just 20 in the friendly against Hungary at Wembley, but after that he suffered more injury misfortune, limping off twice in Carling Cup games and then early again with a foot injury in the Champions League against Partizan Belgrade.
However he returned to fitness to play all six of Arsenal’s FA Cup games, and then the last three Premier League games of the season when Clichy was injured.
He was not entirely convincing in those games, especially in the 3-1 defeat at Stoke, and Arsenal’s legendary left-back Nigel Winterburn was among those to express concern over his defensive positioning.
Arsene Wenger does, of course, have the option to buy a replacement for Clichy, and Leighton Baines of Everton is a player he is known to rate highly.
However, Baines would take a sizeable fee to prise away from Goodison, and his arrival would simultaneously stunt Gibbs’s progress. Hardly Wenger’s style.
But with such a worrying injury record, the Gunners boss clearly needs other options at left-back. The ever-versatile Emmanuel Eboue has filled in many times before, while Thomas Vermaelen has also played in this position, although not since joining Arsenal.
One player who has largely been forgotten is Armand Traore, who was ahead of Gibbs in the pecking order before heading off to join Juventus on loan last season. Having only played 10 games in Italy, he has headed back to the Emirates for pre-season and, if not sold or loaned again, could provide genuine competition for Gibbs.