Assessing Arsenal's Options to Play Left-Back at Stoke
Arsenal travel to face Stoke in the Premier League with a potential crisis at left-back.
Giving his pre-match injury update to Arsenal.com, Arsene Wenger said:
We have uncertainties about Nacho Monreal who had to come off last week with a foot injury, and about Kieran Gibbs. Thomas Vermaelen is back in the squad, Mesut Ozil is back in the squad. Both are available.
If Gibbs and Monreal both fail to make it, Arsenal will be without both their senior left-backs.
In this piece, we look at three candidates who could be ready to step in to the void.
Although ostensibly a centre-back, Thomas Vermaelen's return to fitness makes him a strong contender for the role at left-back.
Vermaelen played plenty of football for Ajax as a full-back, but he has looked somewhat uncomfortable in the role during his time in English football. However, including the Belgian's sprint and heading ability could help prevent Stoke from looking for long diagonal passes to the likes of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters. Although Stoke's style has changed under Hughes, they do still revert to more direct tactics against the bigger teams.
Vermaelen has struggled for game time this season. Playing at full-back isn't ideal, but it might be the best Arsene Wenger can offer him at the moment.
When Nacho Monreal was withdrawn with injury against Sunderland, Carl Jenkinson was introduced and Bacary Sagna was switched to left-back.
Sagna is an intelligent defender and has the versatility to play anywhere across the back line. In the very same game, he also filled in at centre-back.
The downside to deploying Sagna on the left is that he is right-footed, and he is subsequently forced to check back inside before crossing the ball.
It's easily forgotten that some of Mathieu Flamini's finest Arsenal performances have come as a left-back. He was asked to play in the unfamiliar role during the Gunners' run to the 2006 Champions League Final. Although Flamini was ultimately displaced by Ashley Cole in Paris, his role in getting Arsenal to that stage was absolutely crucial.
Flamini returned to the full-back position for a brief spell against Sunderland, but throwing him in to the fray at Stoke would still be a significant gamble. He has not played regularly in the role for eight years.
What's more, Flamini's combative style might be more required in midfield. Selecting Thomas Vermaelen seems like the most sensible option.