Kieran Gibbs hopes the quality of Arsenal’s summer signings will prevent Manchester City luring players north, although he admits more could yet follow Bacary Sagna from the Emirates to the Etihad.
Sagna has been ruled out of the City team for today’s Community Shield at Wembley, but Gibbs hopes Arsenal newcomers, including £35m Chile forward Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, will still impress his former full-back partner, who has followed the well-trodden path taken by Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Touré, Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy.
“The days of people leaving for Man City are not over, because Sagna has just left,” Gibbs admits. “But you’d think from the signings we’ve made that they can achieve things here.”
Sagna’s decision to leave was, perhaps, all the more puzzling because Arsenal are finally cash rich. In addition to Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy (£12m from Newcastle) has replaced Sagna, and Calum Chambers (£16m from Southampton) adds cover in a range of positions. There could be more to come, and even the speculation about possible additions, including Marco Reus and Edinson Cavani, has reflected the club’s improved financial standing.
Possible Arsenal starting XI for the Community Shield v Manchester City
Possible Arsenal starting XI for the Community Shield v Manchester City
1/9 Mathieu Debuchy
Debuchy arrived as the replacement for the departed-Bacary Sagna, who joined Manchester City on a free transfer at the end of the season. Despite being favoured by France coach Didier Deschamps at the World Cup, many Arsenal fans felt Sagna enjoyed one of his best season’s before his exit, and Debuchy will have a lot to live up to if he is to justify his £12m move to the Gunners.
2/9 Calum Chambers
Despite signing for the club this summer, Chambers looks set to start the Community Shield given that Per Mertesacker is yet to return to the club. The 19-year-old impressed during the Emirates Cup, but the Premier League champions will pose a major threat to the young English talent.
3/9 Laurent Koscielny
The Frenchman formed a consistent partnership with Mertesacker last season, but his ability to play alongside Vermaelen still remains in the balance are a string of less than convincing showings over the past two years. Nevertheless, he has developed in to one of the key players among the current Arsenal squad, and has shown an eye for a goal when he is allowed to get in the box at set-pieces.
4/9 Kieran Gibbs
Gibbs overcame a number of long-term injuries to solidify his place as Arsenal’s first-choice left-back, seeing off the challenge of first Andre Santos and now Nacho Monreal. Hopwever, he is yet to reach the performances of his predecessors Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy, although at 24 years old he still has time to nurture his talent and rival Luke Shaw for the England left-back berth in the years to come. He brings a calmness to the Arsenal left flank, which tends to look rather exposed when he is absent.
5/9 Jack Wilshere
Arsenal’s golden boy has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons this summer, and he faces a potentially career defining season ahead of him that could determine his Arsenal future. With Aaron Ramsey enjoying his best season to date last year that saw him win the club’s player of the season award, Wilshere needs to push on or face being replaced in the first team. A number of injuries have not helped his cause, but a good start to the season could really help him cement his place for both club and country.
6/9 Alexis Sanchez
Much like Özil, a lot will be expected to come from Sanchez on the basis that the Gunners shelled out – by their standards – a significant fee to sign him from Barcelona. Sanchez is blessed with speed and his natural instincts in front of goal should help him settle quicker than Özil, but he will be judged on his number of goals. Wenger could look to start him through the middle, although the absence of the injured Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s recovery from injury is likely to see Sanchez start his Arsenal career on the right wing.
7/9 Aaron Ramsey
The Gunners will be hopeful that Ramsey can maintain his level of performance from last season after appearing to overcome the thigh injury that kept him out for nearly four months last term. The Welshman was a prominent figure in the Gunners title challenge, and there is no reason why they can’t win further silverware next season with a fit Ramsey in the side. The confidence he should gain from scoring the winning goal in an FA Cup final should see him push on even further.
8/9 Santi Cazorla
The Spanish magician is a wanted man with interest coming from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, but Arsenal fans will not want him to leave after showing moments of genius since arriving at the Emirates. He has the tendency to blow hot or cold, as he tends to go missing when he’s not at his best, but his best is a joy to watch. Faces a much bigger fight to keep his place this season following the arrival of Sanchez which could see the attacking midfield trio rejigged to accommodate the Chile star.
9/9 Olivier Giroud
Despite calls for him to be replaced – or at least given support – Giroud is likely to continue as Arsenal’s lead striker, at least until the return to fitness of Walcott. Sanchez could take his place through the middle should he start the season slowly, but after showing more last season than he did in his first year with the club, there is an expectation that Giroud can push on further. If he can cut out his habit to miss clear-cut opportunities time and again, he could well contest the league’s top scorer award.
Things have changed at Arsenal, a feeling and a fact emphasised by their first appearance since 2005 in the annual charity match between the Premier League champions and FA Cup holders. Now the empty space on the “honours board” around the upper tier of the stadium just above the away supporters’ seats is filled, with “2014” and an image of the FA Cup. And what a difference that trophy has made.
Gibbs still winces when reminded of his miss from eight yards late in the 3-2 FA Cup victory over Hull City in May, but Aaron Ramsey’s extra-time winner meant that the left-back can report on an improved mood in the camp rather than attempt to explain away another barren season. “Everyone at the club needed it,” he said. “It was extra-special because it had been so long for the club and everyone had been so desperate.
“The atmosphere is different. The ceiling is higher. You feel more mature because you have gone through a lot to get your hands on a trophy and you realise what it takes. The players have come back as bigger personalities.”
Arsène Wenger, the manager, is as cautious as ever, perhaps wary of the extra pressures and fewer excuses that come with a larger transfer kitty. “Let’s not go overboard,” he said. “We are more comfortable, but we are not Manchester City. The real pressure was to keep the club financially capable to pay back the [stadium] debt and for that we needed to be in the Champions League every year. If I write my book one day I will explain why that was the real pressure.”
For now he can enjoy the problem of selecting a winning team from an improved squad. Although Mezut Özil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski are still on World Cup leave and Theo Walcott will not be fit until September, Costa Rican World Cup find Joel Campbell will be given his chance, while Jack Wilshere is fully fit and, Wenger believes, could have – needs to have – the season of his young career. Shad Forsythe, the American conditioning expert who has worked with the Germany team for a decade, will attempt to make the players less prone to the injuries that bedevilled Arsenal’s 2013-14 season.
Sanchez, like Özil a year ago, has raised the bar for Gibbs and the rest.
“Özil came in as if he still had something to prove, as if he wasn’t already a world-class player,” Gibbs says.
“Alexis has that same mentality. Facing him in training is not the best day you’re going to have. He’s like an animal, he’s everywhere, never stops running. He’s a tough character.” How far can he take Arsenal? “I believe we can win the League,” Gibbs says.
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