As well as confirming Olivier Giroud’s messianic status at Arsenal, yesterday’s win at Sunderland showed that patience and hard work for players on the periphery of the first team squad really does pay off.
Despite being usurped as first choice left back in recent years, Kieran Gibbs has stayed quiet, kept his own counsel and, quite simply, kept at it. Just as Nacho Monreal forced his way into the first team with good performances, so to Gibbs has put himself in a good position to capitalise should the Spaniard falter.
If Nacho is not feeling a little pressure in these last few weeks, particularly on the back of some really encouraging run outs for the Englishman, then he could justifiably be accused of complacency.
Of course, fixtures against Sunderland and Reading were far from the hardest tests Gibbs could have faced, but he has to be praised for really making an impression on both occasions. In fact, he was unlucky not to come away with a goal at the Stadium of Light on the back of a swashbuckling performance going forward.
His cross from Giroud’s first goal, in particular, was inch-perfect and worthy of a starting berth on its own.
And if Gibbs is to be hailed for his endeavour and patience, so to Alex Oxlade Chamberlain – who is continuing to grow and improve as this season progresses. I don’t think he is quite ready to force Theo Walcott back to the bench – his rushed and panicked effort when through one-on-one on Saturday is evidence enough of that – but he is learning. It’s difficult to express just how important that is.
One of the biggest criticisms of Alex is that he lacks end product to go with his power and pace – but there have been signs of late that the tide is turning.
He has taking a starring role in the last two rounds of the League Cup and came up with a quite brilliant cross from Alex Sanchez to nod home Arsenal’s opener against Sunderland. It’s just the sort of progress we all want to see from Alex.
Issues remain; he needs to produce consistently, work on his decision making, and show more composure, but he is working hard and showing signs that a corner is being turned.
Both Gibbs and Chamberlain are shining examples to anyone who is suffering a dip in form or a crisis in confidence. You can either sulk and be petulant – in the style of Mathieu Debuchy – or you can get your head down and work hard to improve.
One thing is clear at Arsenal – you will always get another chance. Injuries and the sheer volume of games ensures that much. Whether you take that chance is down to how much you want it.
Quick nods to Giroud and Mohamed Elneny – both players who have found themselves on the bench in recent weeks.
In order to go far in all competitions this season, we are going to need squad players who are capable of maintaining a high level of performance when called upon. Where our bench has looked decidedly weak in season gone by, this year the players on the bench have been excellent – making real, measurable impacts when they have either come into the side or been introduced during games.
There’s no guarantee that either player will be handed a starting berth in the weeks ahead, but they have done themselves no harm by slotting into a winning side and keeping that momentum and level of performance going. Excellent stuff.