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The Ghost of England's Best Left Back

It’s easy to underestimate how important Kieran Gibbs is to Arsenal FC, the lad is 24 now and has been Arsenal’s regular left back for almost 3 years. Absolutely plagued by injuries, Kieran seems to have got over the worst, playing almost 70 games in 2 seasons, which is almost the same as his 5 first seasons combined. I first saw Kieran break on to the scene in the Emirates Cup against Inter Milan in 2007. Then a left winger, Gibbo lit up the tournament with his dazzling trickery and pace down that left hand side giving Javier Zanetti an absolute nightmare. It was pretty evident from that point on that Gibbs was destined to become a great Arsenal player.

6 years on from that performance against Inter Milan, Gibbs has gone on to cement his role in the team at left back, earning 3 England caps during that time. Yes it has really been 6 years. Gibbs secretive, gradual rise to being Arsenal’s number one left back has barely been noticed outside the circles of Arsenal. In any left back debate, Kieran is either forgotten about or pushed to the side, citing ‘injuries’ as a reason why he can’t be regarded as the best. Well almost 70 games in 2 seasons has proven that he can put a sustainable run of games together, yes he may miss a few games a season due to little niggling injuries, but let’s face it, who doesn’t?

Kieran Gibbs England

Last week Roy Hodgson announced his England squad for the friendly against Denmark this week, a squad that surely is an indicator of his plans for the World Cup, with it just being 3 months away. Hodgson chose to take 3 left backs in his 30 man squad, Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw. Now granted Gibbs was injured at the time of the squad announcement, and there could be a possibility of Wenger telling Hodgson he can’t be included in the squad. However I find that highly unlikely since the squad is of 30 players, not all 30 can play, and it’s more for Roy to signal his intentions of who is in his mind for the World Cup. Clearly Kieran Gibbs is not; otherwise Gibbs could’ve been called up and taken part in the training camp for a few days. However this isn’t a new thing, throughout the season the debate always seems to exclude Gibbs from the reckoning. First it was Baines v Cole and not it seems to have turned into a 3 horse race with the inclusion of Luke Shaw. On every media platform, from Talksport to Sky Sports News, to Twitter, Gibbs seems to be excluded from the reckoning almost as though he doesn’t exist.

So why is he forgotten about? Well before I answer this question from a Kieran Gibbs perspective, let’s take a look at the competition around him in the England team. Firstly we have former Gunner Ashley Cole, who has been an England regular since making his debut as an Arsenal player in 2001. Cole has gone on to be capped 106 times for England, and has been widely regarded as being the best left back in the world throughout his prime. Now 33, having only played 13 League games this season, Cole seems to have been frozen out by Mourinho, not kicking a ball in vein since the end of January in an FA cup tie against Stoke, not starting a Premier League since mid-January against Hull. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Ashley Cole is in the England team purely on reputation rather than form.

Kieran Gibbs Arsenal Left Back

Next is Leighton Baines, who many believe will be a dead cert to start for England at the World Cup. At 29 years old Baines is in his peak and has enjoyed a good few seasons at Everton, earning 22 England caps since making his debut in 2010. Baines is renowned for his excellent dead ball skills, as well as his ability to whip in a dangerous cross, scoring 3 goals in the PL this year and has 1 assist. Defensively Baines has yet to have been tested at the big European level, only ever playing 14 games in European competition and none since 2010. Whilst showing his good defensive qualities in the Premier League, where he is part of an Everton defence who boast the joint second best defence in the League, there will always be that doubt of Baines not being tested by the best wingers across Europe.

Gibbs seems to be 4th in the pecking order behind Southampton starlet Luke Shaw. The 18 year old is about to complete his second full season in the Premier League has earned mass plaudits from his performances this season. Yet to make his England debut, Shaw seems beyond his years, nailing down a permanent place in Southampton’s defence and looks destined to join a big club in the next few seasons. Luke Shaw certainly is going to be the future of English football, but a World Cup is huge pressure for an 18 year old who has only ever played just over 50 senior team games, none in Europe or International level.

Gibbs has never been regarded as the world’s best left back, hasn’t won Champions League titles and numerous Premier League titles, neither is he a dead ball specialist with tendencies to pull a worldie of a goal out of the hat from time to time. Neither is Gibbs an 18 year old left back shining through an academy that seems to be flavour of the month. So what does actually Gibbs do?

Well unless you’re an Arsenal fan who watches Gibbs every week, you will be far stretched to try and answer this question. It’s not a question that can be answered by watching Match of the Day every week and the odd Arsenal game on the box. Gibbs quietly goes about his business, putting in solid display after solid display. He rarely makes a mistake and I’m struggling to think of any opponent in the last 2 seasons of playing Champions League and Premier League football who has ever had Gibbs’ number. Names of the likes of Andrew Ayew, Florian Thauvin, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Marco Reus, Jacob Blaszczykowski, Pierre Aubameyang and Arjen Robben. Names that Baines, Shaw and even Cole this season would’ve only seen play on TV. Yet Gibbs dealt with all those players convincingly, up until he had to come off against Bayern we were in control of the game, and it was Robben who lost his replacement Monreal to get the penalty that changed the game. Until Alan Hansen decides to do a spread on him on a Saturday evening, I doubt whether Gibbs will ever gain recognition for his ability.

Arsenal Record with Kieran Gibbs

Starts
(Comp 75 Mins)
Wins Draws Losses Clean Sheets Conceded Goals Assists
 24 16  4 4 11  15 1

*There are two games not included in this table that Gibbs had to be taken off in which we went on to lose after he was taken off, which was against Villa and Bayern.

Now that is very impressive reading for anyone’s eyes. Many speak about Koscielny and Mertesacker’s partnership at the back, but Gibbs record in the team is the most impressive out of everyone’s. How on earth Gibbs has not been considered for this England team will always defeat me, but I can only assume it’s because he does the basics well, he does his job so well he doesn’t even get noticed. He doesn’t stand out by scoring free kicks, or being 18 years old in the Premier League. It may be good news for Arsenal that Gibbs isn’t being called up by England which would of course allow him to stay fresher, but for Gibbs himself this must be majorly disappointing. A chance to go to the World Cup in Brazil, what else more can he do? Maybe we should give him free kick duty or penalties as an opportunity for him to catch Roy Hodgson’s eye. I do hope from now until the end of the season Gibbs continues his current form which he has maintained for over 2 years now, and gets his just rewards and plaudits, there is nobody else out there who deserves it more.

Thanks for reading

Gibbs for the World Cup!

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