Arsenal were once blessed with a wealth of top class players at left-back. From the old days of Nigel Winterburn to Sylvinho and more modern times of Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy, the Gunners have been blessed on that flank under the management of Arsene Wenger, who has consistently deployed his teams with defenders who possess an attacking instinct.
Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs have both been fantastic defenders for the Emirates side in their own right, with the former, in particular, making the left-back spot his own over the past couple of seasons. However, it has become evident that the ex-Malaga man has regressed this campaign - a factor that could be down to his age.
The 31-year-old is the same age as Laurent Koscielny, although the requirements of a full-back are different to a centre-back, with athleticism, stamina and positional sense arguably more crucial to the position. It may seem harsh to focus criticism on a player who puts full commitment into every game, but there have been times when wingers and even lower league opponents have looked far too good for Monreal.
During the FA Cup clash against non-league Sutton last month there was a moment when former Gunners academy product Roarie Deacon turned Monreal inside out. There is no doubt that Deacon has the potential to play at a higher level than the Vanarama National League, but you couldn’t help but feel that that particular defensive lapse was an example of something which has crept into Monreal’s game on a regular basis.
The signing of youngster Cohen Bramall signifies Arsenal’s intent for the future and, by all accounts, the 18-year-old has the potential to turn into an excellent player. Bramall’s performances for the Under-23s have improved with every game and it’s likely that he’ll be blooded in the League Cup next season.
But his arrival at the club is a long-term plan and in the meantime they need someone experienced such as Monaco’s Benjamin Mendy - a player who has been on Arsenal’s radar for almost two years. Kieran Gibbs had the opportunity to leave the club last summer but Arsenal rejected offers from two Premier League sides so it's vital that they recruit an experienced left-back in the close season.
His contract expires in less than 18 months and a departure is looking likely due to his lack of game time this campaign. Gibbs is a player who has superb athletic qualities but can often be found out defensively due to lapses in concentration and positioning.
There is no doubt that Arsenal’s left-backs are put in disadvantaged positions at times due to the slow transitioning to defence when controlling counterattacks. This represents an overall problem that needs fixing and can only be changed by new tactics or increased tempo.
The slowness of ball distribution has caused problems for the Gunners this season and, despite Alexis Sanchez having such an impressive season, the left-hand side rarely looks solid when an opposition winger is charging into that area. Wenger’s side need a left-back in the mould of Cesar Azpilicueta.
The Chelsea defender is predominantly a defender who knows how to attack and remains one of the Blues’ most important players in their title charge under Antonio Conte. If Arsenal can sign someone of a similar ilk this summer then they will go one step forward to bolstering a squad which is more than capable of challenging for major honours if they shore up the leaky defence.