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July 2021

Santos or Gibbs: who will hold the left back position this season?


Publication on July 20th: Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football. The book that re-writes the Arsenal story.


By Walter Broeckx

Who will take on the left back position next season? Well I think this is the most open position in the whole team maybe.

If we look at last season we can just say that both options (Santos and Gibbs) were very much out with injury for a large part of the season.

Santos made a total of 10 starts in the PL and scored 2 goals. Gibbs was a bit fitter apparently and started in 15 games and scored one goal. So out a total of 38 games we had only in 25 of those a real left back at the start of the game.  That is just in 65% of the games!

Maybe this could shed a light on why we conceded too many goals last season. It is rather helpful to have your left backs fit and running.

So who will be the first choice when the new season starts? A question that only Wenger will be able to answer. I will make an attempt of course but leave this until a little later in this article.

Last season Gibbs was heaving a go in the first game at Newcastle, then got injured and only returned in September. And did rather well with Arsenal not losing when he played. And then came what seems to be coming when Gibbs is doing well: an injury. And this injury kept him out from October to January. He then came back in February (in Milan….) but then kept his place and became better and better.

And he kept the best part maybe for the last minutes of the season when he made a vital block when WBA came close to maybe score an equaliser. It was Koscielny who scored the vital winner that day but it was our young left back that saved the day at the other end.

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Santos came at the end of the transfer window last August,  and his first games were not the best. He clearly needed to adapt to the new team and his new teammates. But when Gibbs got injured he got his chance and he became better and better. “He cannot defend,” was said but well I have seen him defend and make some important blocks also. A block in the first minutes at Wigan made sure Wigan wouldn’t surprise us in the opening minutes. And after a really bad first half at Chelsea he turned the game for us with not only scoring a good goal to level the score but he also was suddenly unbeatable in that game. He carried on in that way until… he got injured at Olympiacos in the CL.

Arsenal with no natural left back left had to find all kinds of solutions till Gibbs was back. But we had to play around 2 months with no real left back. When Santos was fit again it was Gibbs who got the starting place at first. But Wenger switched both players near the end of the season. And in the final game it paid of to have chosen Santos. As it was his shot from outside the penalty box that put the score level at 2-2.

So a start of 25 games for our left backs and scoring 5 goals in total amongst the two of them. I do think that keeping at least one of them fit would have made a big difference. Not just for the defensive part of the game but also for having a few more goals scored. When Santos signed I predicted that he has a record of scoring every 5 or 6 games and that is what he has done for Arsenal also. So having him for the double of the games he played could have resulted in us scoring a few more goals. And also Gibbs has starting to find the net.

Now who will get the upper hand next season? Will it be the experience of Santos or the youth of Gibbs? I think a lot of it will depend on how both play in the pre season. And depending on the opponents that can be expected on the day. If you have a fast attacker Gibbs might be the best option. Against a slower or a very defensive team Santos might be the best option. Gibbs looks faster but Santos has a lot more body to use in the duels. If both could play 19 games each or if the two of them could be able to start in all 38 games next season we might have a very good pair of left backs.

The injury from Santos was clearly an accidental one. The injuries from Gibbs are sometimes more down to muscular things. So expect Santos to be more fit during the season than Gibbs. I probably have cursed Santos by saying this…..

What I very much like about Santos is his Brazilian relaxed style. Ok I do admit he has made my heart skip a few beats last season when he just made that unexpected turn or dribble in a position that you really don’t like us to lose the ball. But well he is Brazilian and full of confidence about what he can so we have to take it from him.

What I like about Gibbs is the way he has shown tremendous character to come back after all the injuries he had to suffer these last seasons. He is starting to enter his best years now and Santos at 29 is entering the last years of his career. So I wouldn’t be surprised that Wenger goes for Santos most of the time and when experience is very important.

The one thing I know is that it will be a tough battle to take the left back spot. And I hope the battle continues the whole 38 games in the PL with both ready to play and to pressurise  the other to his best possible game and performances.


From the Untold Player Files

42 comments to Santos or Gibbs: who will hold the left back position this season?

  • Amr

    I really like santos, from the first game he played, even though he is relaxed he had a calming influence on me when i was watching the matches when he played. He has the “air” of experience about him also, like he’s has been about the block a few times, and his last ditch tackles and interceptions were really great after a couple of games you could see he was starting to get the rythm of the EPL just before he got injured. I think we will see a solid season from Santos (if he avoids injury as with any other player.) I really think he has the ability to rival Sanga on the right hand side for form and influence on the game…..Gibbsy though doesn’t fill me with confidence when i see his name on the team sheet, even though i know he will hardly last a full game it’s still a worry…I think in an ideal world we could get a cover for Santos on the left and loan out gibbsy to a championship or possibly an EPL team, if they would risk his injuries disrupting the rythme of their defense.

  • nakew

    Santos, when more attacking is required (against teams of weaker attacking front)
    Gibbs, when more defending is required (against teams of stronger attacking front)

  • Boye

    Santos should be first choice, we should rotate

  • fedda

    Gibbs is a lot better defending than Santos. I would like Gibbs against the attacking sides and Santos against the defensive teams.

    Santos has improved on his defensive abilities, but he is too much out of position. If you watch closely in a game, you will see either Song or Arteta moving down to the left defending on a counter-attack, due to Santos being too high on the pitch and jogging back. That leaves open space in front of the back four, and has cost us a couple of times, luckily not more.

  • Devil

    Santos in home games and Gibbs in away games.

  • El Tel

    I really like both Santos and Gibbs and can’t choose between them as you rightly pointed out they have very different qualities.

    I think Gibbs could be pushing Cashley for the England spot by now but He constantly gets those niggling injuries. I like Him because I think we need some English Boys in the team and because He is technically sound. If Gibbs can sort out His positional play (uncle Bouldy to the rescue) England could have its next LB place covered for years to come.

    Santos is one of my favourite players, he has immense technical ability and He is a better tackler than most give credit for. I remember Gilberto getting slagged off in His time with many saying we bought the worst Brazilian footballer ever but Boy do we miss him now. Santos has similar qualities to Gilberto in He doesn’t concede to many free kicks for need less fouls although He does handle the ball every now and then which is a worry.

    I think we could see Gibbs at LB and Santos playing LM or LW. Time will tell of course. I think LB is covered and the DM role is our weakest spot.

  • showtime

    i thnk wt we need is a discplined defensive midfielder 2 cover 4 santos n gibbs wen dey r out of position.our problm ws dt wen gibbs or santos wer in front out defensive midfielder ws oso too far upfield n dts wt left us exposd mst tymz…

  • Gooner Al

    Neither player are anywhere near the same class as cole and clichy. Santos, in particular, is defensively/positionally inept. I have been an advocate for signing leighton Baines, but, surprise surprise, it looks like man u will pull that one off. If you look at any team that wins a title, including our own, they included one of the top 2 or 3 players in their position in the league. Arguably only RVP ,sagna ,vermaelen and (when fit) wilshere,meet that criteria. This is simply inadequate, compounded by injuries to 3 of those players and the pending departure of RVP.

  • jj

    Who gives a shit if he can score the odd goal and has flair blah blah blah. He’s a DEFENDER.
    STRENGTH- Santos
    PACE- Gibbs
    MARKING- Gibbs
    TACKLING- Gibbs
    FITNESS- Gibbs
    AGE- Gibbs
    The are facts you cant deny, Gibbs is a better DEFENDER!!!

  • bc

    Should throw botelho into the equation. but i honestly think that when mertesacker adapts to the pace he will come in alongside kos and captain tv5 will be asked to do a captains job and play where the team needs him most.

  • Gibbs would have to be first choice in my reckoning, as whilst Santos can make last ditch tackles and blocks, it’s usually because of his positioning beforehand that’s meant this sort of reactive tackle was necessary.

    Gibbs possesses more overall qualities, and whilst Santos may offer an extra goal threat, it’s not worth the defensive trade in my book.

    In a team that has a weak attack, then highly offensive players like Santos at the back can be a godsend, but if you’ve already got plenty of quality in attack and even midfield, then having a solid defender becomes a higher priority over their attacking attributes, hence why I think Gibbs when fit should be first choice.

    Santos is likely to play an important part in things however as I can’t see Gibbs managing a full season without some decent injury time…

  • I lyk santos when no11 support him, so I prefer santos+podolsky but if Gervinho play then ist time for gibbs

  • clockendjim

    I think overall Gibbs is the better defender.
    What doesn’t seem to be considered is how good Santos is going forward and he could do a really good job of being our defensive midfielder. Better I think than Song who often neglects his defensive duties. However the pair of them together in front of the back four could give them great protection and also a lot of interesting options going forward. This would give us the kind of midfield steel that we have never recaptured since the days of Vieira & Petit
    The formation of the team really needs to be addressed when we know the situation with Jack Wilshere which still seems a bit doubtful

  • NTG

    both are good neither great tho. Gibbs decent but always injured and a bit clumsy. Santos great attacking, ok defending when he is in position but too often out of place. Perhaps we could play neither and put vermalen at LB – with Mertersaker/Konscienly in CB and become tighter? Or i wouldnt mind signing Baines and get a better LB in if we want to improve – offer Everton £8m and Gibbs and everyone is happy.

  • ft

    Neither. Balzaretti.

  • @Gooner Al at 7.58am
    Your first sentence, unfortunately, is true.

    @JJ at 8.12am
    Spot on, mate.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Gibbs of course, One thing we missed here…..A wide defender should be a good header. When the crosses come to the far post, a good header can clear the ball out of danger. Gibbs is better than Santos in that department.

  • Deshola

    I think both santos and gibbs have enormous task to perform this new season. Rotation will do both of them time to perform to their best. The choice of left back will depend on who is playing ahead of them. Podolski is more defensive minded than gervinho. So manager can go for gibbs when gervinho is playing and santos when Podolski is on the left flank..
    some fans don’t appreciate what they have. How can someone(@ Gonner Al) is still point blaming finger on Arsene Wenger for not buying Leighton Baine?.. check it out Baine is in the same class of santos and gibbs. He is not better than them. assuming gibbs was lucky last season with injury, he could have been ahead of Baine in Euro2012 England team..I wish gibbs and santos injury free season and the rest of the team.

  • Deshola

    I think both santos and gibbs have enormous task to perform this new season. Rotation will help both of them to perform to their best. The choice of left back will depend on who is playing ahead of them. Podolski is more defensive minded than gervinho. So manager can go for gibbs when gervinho is playing and santos when Podolski is on the left flank..
    Some fans don’t appreciate what they have. How can someone(@ Gonner Al) is still point blaming finger on Arsene Wenger for not buying Leighton Baine?.. check it out Baine is in the same class of santos and gibbs. He is not better than them. assuming gibbs was lucky last season with injury, he could have been ahead of Baine in Euro2012 England team..I wish gibbs and santos injury free season and the rest of the team.

  • mark

    gibbs. no contest.
    just as good as santos if not better and would make no sense playing santos, who has several years left of his career, instead of investing in a young prospect who is developing very well and potentially can become a great left back for arsenal.

  • Franny

    Don’t know where people say Gibbs is better defending – he’s barely there to defend. Always leaves gaping holes in the defence.

    Santos is the better defender when on form and also much better going forward.

  • Stevie E

    Sorry guys, totally off topic but you need to read this. Absolute proof of corruption and match fixing in the epl –

  • Stroller

    Unless and until Gibbs can put together a decent run of games without injury then I would say Santos. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. But the worst scenario is having to constantly switch between the two because of injury. All players usually benefit from putting together a decent run of games, so that is what I would like to see.

    Long term and subject to becoming more injury adverse it would be great to see Gibbs become the quality LB he was forecasted to be when he first came on the scene.

  • SouthernGunner

    Like the both of them. Even though they play in the same position, they seem quite different to each other. Something that’s overlooked about Santos is that his goals for Arsenal were important (Chelsea away & West Brom). And as you said, his composure and calmness is quite reassuring.

    But Gibbs also has his merits. His so-called “£50 million tackle” at WBA away last day of the season helped us secure 3rd, and for someone whose run in the first team has been interrupted by injury, he’s always managed to come back strong, and I like that about him. I hope for his sake, as well as the teams, that he doesn’t have to worry about set-backs anymore, as he seems like a decent lad and a good player.

    Personally I wish both these guys the very best.

  • EIE

    2 useless fullbacks managed by a useless outdated manager

  • Temitope DICKSON

    I prefer Santos to Gibbs because of his attacking mindedness.

  • walter

    EIE, the next best manager after Pep Guardiola

  • Robert

    i feel always comfortable to have him at the left back position.he is a great player and less error prone compared to gibbs.he has a wonderful pace and also supports the attack very well and tackles well to.i luv him.

  • Héctor

    GIBS BY FAR!!!!! Santos is good sub and sometimes he can play as a left midfielder.

  • Wooby

    How about TV5? 🙂

    Just throwing it out here. I have been working under the assumption that Kos + TV5 will be our CBs. But what if Wenger decides to put Per and Kos together as CBs and have Sagna + TV5 as FBs?

  • Wooby

    On a separate note. When following the Euros I read articles discussing teams playing a 3-5-2 (and I think someone here mentioned it in one of their comments on another piece as well). Would it be a stretch for us to use this formation?

    We would line up Kos + Per + TV5 in the back. Sagna and Santos/Gibbs (doesn’t matter who) as “wing backs” to run up and down the flanks, either defending or supplying offense. Song + Arteta then line up in the middle with Rosicky as AM behind Giroud and Poldi. If we need more speed, we can always bring on Theo and drop one of Rosicky/Giroud/Poldi.

    It would be something totally different than what we have fielded before. If the goal is to adopt a formation around your best 11, it would seem worthwhile to consider having all 3 of Kos, TV5 and Per in the lineup. Thoughts?

  • Ong Bing

    I like both of them. For me, no problem Gibbs or Santos starts on LB.

    It is good for us, we have 2 LB with same quality.

    Sadly, sometimes we just realized something after we lost it. Some people now said how good Clichy.

    Yes, now Clichy is better than Gibbs, the same situation when we lost Cashley.

    Gibbs will be better and better, Arsene sold Clichy because he still have another raw gem, not only about money.

    And Gibbs will be better because he can attack, in the modern football, we not only need LB/RB that can defend. And thats why Arsene buy another can;t defend LB, I think.

  • Ong Bing

    Wooby, if we meet team that will park a big big bus, I like to play 3-5-2.

    The 3-5-2 without LB and RB!

    We have 3 good CB, we have a lot of midfielder, so why we not play them together?


    Sounds crazy?

  • 3-2-3-2 will get ripped apart by any side with decent wingers at this level, that’s why if you stick three at the back nowadays you will normally have 2 wingbacks to cover on the flanks against this.

    You could do something like this:

    Kos Per TV5
    BS KG
    Song – Arteta

    Theo JW/TR Pod


    But I can’t see it happening…

  • Wooby

    @Indy_Bones, agreed, a 3-5-2 without wingbacks run the risk of getting burned bad as most teams in the BPL would have some speed down the flanks.

    @Ong Bing, difficulty with your proposed lineup would be the reliance on Theo and Ox to manage the entire right and left flanks (respectively) – I am not sure they are both up to it, especially when we are defending.

  • Ong Bing

    Yeah, risky, but 2 DM can stand little bit wide, 1 cover left and 1 cover right, not so wide as LB/RB.

    But this is only imagination, just remembered in the past, sometimes we end the game with 4 strikers in pitch.

  • Johnny Deigh

    For me there is no comparison. Santos is a world class player, Gibbs on the other hand merely has potential.

  • Gooner Al

    I don’t know what planet some of you are on! Mertsacker is probably the worst defender we have had since gus Caesar. Santos is far from world class. Both of their national managers have been watching them a lot more closely than some of you have, and have dropped them as first team choices. Can’t understand why spurs have managed to persuade vertognen to join them over us. He also would have been able to provide cover for the injury prone Gibbs at left back. But he clearly lacks ambition, or we are seriously missing david dein to close some of these deals. I repeat my preference would have been to go for Baines. We need to bring back more English style premier quality defenders in the keown’s/winterburn mould, less of the Frenchdependency. Talking of which, please let s replace Walcott with victor Moses. And give the ox arshavin s position. Moses is awesome.

  • Walter

    Gooner Al,

    Mertesacker has been first choice for Germany till he got injured at Sunderland. He then played bad in his first game back and after that was dropped. His replacement did fine so why would the manager then change back again? I’m sure that without his injury he still would have been first choice for Germany.

    And so the German manager after some 5 or 6 years suddenly noticing that Mertesacker is the worst German defender of all times also?

    Is Ferdinand suddenly the worst central defender from MU since the start of times? He even didn’t make it in the England squad you know…

    Santos lost his place after an incident before the world cup with the Brazilian manager Dunga if I recall it all too well. So he wasn’t picked for the WC.

    After Dunga was replaced Santos was picked again for 9 games until he got injured.

    Yeah, players who have been picked and first choice(until) very recently for German and Brazil must be bad…. What do they know about football in those countries….

  • Gooner Al – you abuse people, and then just make statements. On what basis do you say “Mertsacker is probably the worst defender we have had since gus Caesar” – you just say stuff, without any logic, argument or backup.

  • Walter

    And Vertonghen is all about mouth but when it comes to proving himself he chooses the “certainty” of getting a place at Tottenham in the starting line up in stead of fighting for a place at Arsenal.
    Or he knows he is not good enough compared to the other defenders at Arsenal or he hasn’t got the guts to prove himself.

  • Ed

    i think they are both fairly decent. you dont get to where they are – full internationals and played for some of the big european clubs – by being average.

    i also dont get this about santos being a bad defender. i think one on one, hes excellent, since seeing him in the second half against chelsea, i dont think i have seen any attacker beat him one-on-one. if you are talking about positioning, then i think thats a systematic problem and as some people have mentioned, the midfielders who cover. he doesnt just wander around aimlessly when he is supposed to be at left back. he is out of position usually because he has gone forward to support the attack. in that case, the midfielders should have the experience to drop back and take over the left back spot if needed.

    someone above said that they are not as good as clichy or cole. i dont buy that. clichy also made a lot of mistakes that we criticised him for.