It is clear Wenger needs to look to solutions on Arsenal’s vulnerable left flank

Time for Gibbo to share the load

Time for Gibbo to share the load

I am going to cut to the chase here; I think Saturday’s mixed bag of a display from Arsenal identified more problems on Arsenal’s left than was exposed by the speed of Barrow. Selecting a team to challenge in any given match and indeed for the Premier League has to be about the right balance and full use of the larger deeper squad Wenger has at his disposal. Wenger traditionally is not a huge rotator within the squad and likes to adhere to a winning formula when he finds one but is that the way to win the title? Loyalty is commendable, as is the old adage of ‘you have the shirt son, keep playing well and you will keep it’ but are they outdated sentiments in this modern era?

I am the biggest Montreal convert but there are signs that his excellent positioning, which had seen him make the left back spot his own, and earned him the ‘Mr Consistent’ tag may not always be enough. I am not sure if he has lost a yard of speed but since about March he had been left stranded on several occasions. Obviously Mane on the inside in the season opener and Barrow on Saturday are among the quickest wide men he will face but the former left Nacho as a statue cutting inside and the latter on the outside.

Rotation for appropriate games

Rotation for appropriate games

Not that we should be too swift to discard the Spaniard who had just earned an international recall, far from it. But if we accept that Arsenal have 2 players for each position then might we not take advantage of that? Monreal is 31 in February and not about to get quicker and Kieran Gibbs is 27 with his peak years arguably ahead of him. Gibbs has over 200 games under his belt by Arsenal, 10 international caps and most crucially has more speed and quite possibly a better chance of recovery when beaten by a winger. Is Gibbs as good a defender as Monreal? I would say no but he is certainly a very capable left back and more than able to take his fair share of games this season and beyond. Perhaps in games where the opposition wide midfielder or winger is about pace rather than trickery it should be Gibbs given the nod.

To some this may seem an odd suggestion it one is better than the other but not if the attributes required and strengths are different. Of course there is a very recent precedent and template for success using this model. Both Mancini and then Pellegrini have won the Premier League with Man City rotating their left backs. Most recently in 2014 the roles was shared almost equally with Kolarov starting 21 games and ex Gunner Clichy 18. But here the interesting observation made in that last winning season in a Bleacher Report:

“Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov share left-back duties almost equally; the ex-Arsenal man is Pellegrini’s choice when faced with a side who offer pace in wide positions, while the Serbian is selected against teams with less intention to go forward.”

I would argue that the above theory put into practice by the Chilean with much success must be on Wenger’s mind.

2 left backs, 2 titles

2 left backs, 2 titles

In addition though the left back position cannot be considered in isolation give the way Wenger’s Arsenal are setting up of late. There is little doubt that in attack the team are still pressing forward in the conventional , though more fluid 4231 BUT this season when not in position it appears to me that the team retracts as a 4411 or 442 with Ozil seemingly given lighter defensive responsibility and staying closer to Alexis. This has given greater emphasis on the front to back work for the 2 wide men, Iwobi and Walcott and surprisingly to me and to most fans, it is the England International that has risen to the challenge with more gusto. Having watched the work rate of Alexis and to a degree Campbell in recent seasons the penny seems to have finally dropped with Walcott. Playing with Alexis through the middle and dropping off has given Theo some licence to drift inside and offer a goal threat. It is working very well but out of possession his work rate in support of Bellerin has been commendable. Of course the young Spanish fullback is so fast the support may not be needed as much as it seems to be on the left.

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So what is the solution given that Alex Iwobi almost counter-balancing Theo’s attacking desire and playing as a second playmaker to Ozil gives us attacking balance? Well the obvious one is suggested above in playing Gibbs when facing a strong counter attacking threat or just a fast winger but that alone is not satisfactory. Iwobi is young and still growing in his body and at present is either physically not up to playing at full tilt for 90 minutes or not fit enough to do so. I think he has only finished about 2 full matches in the Premier League since his debut in 2015. Surely though this is a slight cause for concern. In the second half against Swansea despite all his good work in attack by early in the second period when Barrow was an increasing influence in the game and attacking Monreal one on one the young Nigerian seemed to have nothing left in the tank. The expression ‘blowing out of his arse’ comes to mind.

Off again Iwobi!!

Off again Iwobi!!

I am not sure what the answer is in the short-term but taking Iwobi off after 70 minutes in every game cannot be it. Surely for a young man with so much natural talent, vision and maturity a personalised fitness regime should be an easy fix? Or is it just a talking to and a gentle kick up the arse he is too often blowing out off. Either way if this is out set up and Iwobi a long term solution, which I hope he is, it needs to be addressed. In the meantime as with Paul Merson at the same age, talents need to be handled with care, rested periodically and not played week in week out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on a played with a degree of maturity against Swansea and I think he and Gibbs might start the match on the left in the Champions League tomorrow.

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5 Responses to It is clear Wenger needs to look to solutions on Arsenal’s vulnerable left flank

  1. I.P. from South Africa October 18, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    Fully agree with your observations on Monreal. He definitely can not cope with speed which should be an alert to Wenger to, at the very least, start looking for new blood to join us. Gibbs can definitely be used as you have explained.
    Something else which I have started noticing is that Cech, as good as he is, is slowly but surely starting to find it more difficult than before to cope with shots on goal. Whether it is my imagination or fact but his speed of reaction and movement to the ball appears to be quite a bit slower than in his Chelsea days. This may also be an alert signal for Wenger to take heed of.

  2. chris October 18, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    Monreal is a very steady, experienced player who does not do anything stupid. For example he is better than Gibbs. But he has always lacked speed off the mark and is not good at stopping crosses coming in.

  3. waheed October 18, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    Gibbs can actually come in and hit his own form again. i remember about 2 season ago gibbs was playing ahead of monreal and did well in the position before his off form and less playing by the coach. So we can encourage him more with more games to his belt. i think we need rotation in this area, moreal for defensive team because he can run to catch up during counter and monreal for the attacking team cos he is more defensive minded than gibbs.

  4. waheed tiamiyu October 18, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Gibbs can actually come in and hit his own form again. i remember about 2 season ago gibbs was playing ahead of monreal and did well in the position before his off form and less playing by the coach. So we can encourage him more with more games to his belt. i think we need rotation in this area, moreal for defensive team because he can run to catch up during counter and monreal for the attacking team cos he is more defensive minded than gibbs.

  5. OlegYch October 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    I believe the only reason Monreal was slightly off pace is his involvement in internationals – i imagine it was a bit of a shock for him, given his age.
    Gibbs might finally be getting more games, but his play against Stoke couple of years ago still gives me shivers…

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