Arsenal’s left back position has been one of continuous debate since the start of the season. A fully fit Kieran Gibbs made the position his own following his role in three convincing consecutive clean sheets against Sunderland, Stoke & Liverpool.
Gibbs spent the majority of his youth-team career as a winger, and he displayed his attacking qualities against Liverpool in particular provided a genuine outlet on the left flank with his energetic protruding runs, parallel to those seen frequently by Gael Clichy and Ashley Cole before him.
Gibbs’ prominence in the role is no surprise. He was considered the most natural and economical heir to the role left void in Clichy’s sale. He is also a player that grew up in the club, knows the set-up and is extremely hard working. Few fans will argue that Arsene Wenger needs to buy a left back to specifically replace Kieran – the issue lies with backup for a player who struggles to get a consecutive run of fitness.
Andre Santos, the backup left back is in the peak years of his career, however his poor performances this season have irreversibly tarnished his Arsenal career beyond repair. His indisciplined forward runs, have time and time again left Arsenal defensively frail on the counter, his weight issues appear to have hindered his fitness and his defending has been far from comforting for fans.
Whilst many fans are crying out for money to be spent on a player who will not replace, but complement Gibbs, fans must realise the failure of Arsenal recently looking for squad players such as Santos, Squillaci, Chamakh & Park. These four players alone equate to over £200,000 on wages being needlessly drained from the club’s wage budget. Players will never get the £60,000 p/w or so they now receive, and their refusal to take wage cuts (Squillaci in talks with Bastia) means they cannot be sold. Fans reaction? Blame Wenger. Releasing these players means less money for the already tight transfer budget.
Should Santos be sold in January (albeit unlikely), the club need look no further than Jernade Meade, the 20 year old who has looked far from out of place in the left back role against Reading in the League Cup and more recently against Olympiakos in the Champions League.
Whilst the vast majority of fans (Piers included) may not be familiar with Meade, the youngster has been making waves in the academy set up consistently this season – consistency not evident in the first team set up. His 10 starts in the U21 set up has brought a handful of assists from a left back role. The player is fast, has very quick feet and has a final ball to rival any up and coming left back in the country. Most importantly, he has the hunger.
Meade became the 811th footballer to represent Arsenal when he featured against Reading, and should be one of several internal replacements to the first team squad as soon as the academy season wraps up after Christmas. Gnabry, Meade, Miquel, Angha, Martinez & Eisfeld should directly replace Arshavin, Santos, Squillaci, Djourou, Mannone & Diaby respectively. Diaby simply cannot stay fit.
Provided the rot of inconsistent players now being heavily relied upon are moved on in January, the U21 players could kick start a refreshingly competitive atmosphere in the club not evident for several years, and on realistic wage packets. This mentality could be key in undoing the damage inflicted by a hopeless start to the season. The infamous war chest may not need to be plundered yet.