Kieran Gibbs Revelling in Increased Competition at Resurgent Arsenal
When he first burst onto the scene with an Emirates Cup cameo against Inter Milan in 2007, he was a pure left-winger, jinking to the byline to try and supply the strikers with a whipped cross or perfectly-angled pull-back. The young Englishman seemed destined for a career on the wing.
However, Arsene Wenger saw else something in Gibbs' lung-bursting sprints and superb stamina. Like Ashley Cole before him, Gibbs began the arduous process of converting from an attacker to a full-back, learning the dark arts of defending along the road.
It was not a painless process. Gibbs did the majority of his learning in the pressure-cooker environment of the first team. Almost inevitably, there were high-profile mistakes, such as the costly slip against Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League semi-final.
There were injuries too. Gibbs has suffered twice with broken metatarsal bones. Missing long spells slowed his progress. There was a time when Arsenal fans wondered if Gibbs might be too brittle to cope with the intensity of a Premier League campaign.
However, each set-back only fuelled Gibbs’ determination to establish himself as an Arsenal player, and eventually he was able to suceed Gael Clichy as a regular first-choice.
Gibbs has now matured in to an excellent left-back, adding defensive stability to his game. Crucially, he remains capable of making telling contributions at the attacking end.
The Marseille game is a perfect example of Gibbs’ improvement. Not only was he on hand to make a vital clearance off the line with the game poised at 0-0, but he also broke forward to create both Arsenal goals. With Jack Wilshere tucking in from the left wing, Gibbs exploited the vacated space to create a constant menace on the overlap.
His superb form this season is keeping January signing Nacho Monreal firmly on the substitute’s bench.
When Arsenal signed Monreal from Malaga on the final day of the January window, it seemed like an eminently sensible signing. Gibbs had just been injured in a closely fought clash with Liverpool, and Arsenal fans were dreading the possibility of an extended run in the team for the unpopular Andre Santos.
Monreal arrived and went straight in to the team. At 27, he had the experience to cope with the upheaval of a move to a different league and immediately offered a steady alternative to the injury prone Gibbs.
Once Gibbs returned from his fitness problem, he and Monreal rotated regularly. Typically, the Spaniard would play in the club’s away games, while Gibbs would be entrusted with home matches, when his penetrative attacking runs could be most effective.
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One would have expected that pattern to continue this season. However, after Monreal missed the opening few games of the season with a back problem, Gibbs seized the initiative in style. Monreal has been limited to just one start as Gibbs has established his place in a settled back four alongside Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna.
Gibbs has responded to competition in the best way imaginable: by spurring himself on to produce improved performances.
It is often said that signing foreigners can sound the death knell for the development of British talent. However, Monreal’s arrival seems to have awoken something in Gibbs.
Arsenal fans will be hoping the tussle between these two ensures Arsenal have a fully focused left-back for years to come.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.
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