Arsenal’s left back dilemma
While three of the four positions in Arsenal’s defence appear nailed down – Bacary Sagna is surely, as Arsene Wenger pointed out, the best right back in the league, with the excellent Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen forming a solid partnership – there remain doubts over the Frenchman’s preferred choice at left full back. When one of Andre Santos and Kieran Gibbs have lined up there for the Gunners, it has mainly been by default due to the other being injured.
Many agree that in football the consistency in your line-up should come from your defence, as when a permanent three/four/five at the back (or 10 in Stoke’s case) are selected it’s easier for them to blend & gel, and give the team a unity to build upon. However, Santos and Gibbs offer Arsenal different things, and it’s a possibility that, with neither particularly edging the battle, Wenger may well select his left back based on the opposition, and which player suits the specific game more.
It may also be that, as @hazzaboy21 discussed on Twitter, Wenger will make his choice based on the player in front of the potential left back in the left wing position. If a player like Yossi Benayoun was selected, one who was more likely to cut inside, perhaps the more eager-to-overlap full back in Gibbs would be selected to keep the width. Only the other hand, Santos prefers to come inside and at times acts as an extra midfielder, so might perhaps tread on the toes of a roaming wide player like Benayoun. This player influence graphic of the game against Manchester City demonstrates Santos’ liking for dribbling in-field perfectly, as it shows him much closer to the midfielders than Gibbs was.
With Gibbs’ apparent inability to put together a string of games proven by his unavailability for the game against Wolves, doubts remain over his fitness and this may well be the factor that gives Andre Santos the position full-time. Technically, Santos is superb – the typical Brazilian “lateral” who likes to use the ball – and he often drifts inside to exchange passes, win the ball and help Arsenal keep the ball and win the midfield battle.
Santos is also similar to Koscielny and Vermaelen in that he likes to nick the ball away from attackers to start counter attacks – the move for Aaron Ramsey’s miss against City was started by Santos nipping in to win the ball. This enthusiasm may occasionally see him commit fouls, but more often than not it’s vital in helping Arsenal attack from the back as they love to do.
On the other hand, Gibbs is perhaps the complete opposite of Santos as a full back. He loves to overlap the winger, make runs down the left hand side and whip balls into the area. He’s always full of energy and attacking runs, and is also fairly handy at winning aerial battles. Here you would perhaps compare him to Bacary Sagna, who, like the Englishman, likes to overlap the winger, cross into the area and use his physical excellence to bomb up and down the wing.
Perhaps, then, Arsenal would be better off to pair Sagna with Santos to give them variety, rather than having two similar full backs who offer pretty much the same thing. Variety is a big part of Arsenal’s game – the very different Yossi Benayoun and Theo Walcott gave a vital variety on the wings against Manchester City, and they may well strive to achieve the same conglomeration.