Kieran Gibbs needs to move on from Arsenal if he wants to play for England
Just three months out from Euro 2016, England have unearthed a squad of genuine depth and potential, but there is one position where they do seem rather understaffed.
At left-back, Roy Hodgson has called up two players -- Southampton's Ryan Bertrand and Tottenham's Danny Rose -- who have just one competitive start for their country between them. It is a frightening lack of experience heading into a major tournament and yet there is one English left-back who started four Euro 2016 qualifiers and their last match, a friendly win over France in November: Kieran Gibbs.
If he was playing regularly for Arsenal, it is evident that Gibbs would walk into this England squad, having been trusted by Hodgson to start in home wins over San Marino and Slovenia, as well as the away victories over the latter and Lithuania during the qualification process.
Gibbs was well placed to go to his first major international tournament but a chronic lack of football -- starting only three games in the Premier League since the game against France at Wembley -- has fatally undermined him. Now his chances of representing his country at Euro 2016 seem rather remote, especially if Luke Shaw manages to return from his broken leg for Manchester United before the end of the season -- albeit an unlikely scenario.
Hodgson is not a man to hastily rule anyone out of his travelling party for the finals in France this summer, and said of Gibbs and Everton's Leighton Baines, similarly excluded, that he "knows their qualities," and "come May I'll be in a position to still include them, if I want to." But it didn't sound like the most enthusiastic endorsement.
Having lost his international place, Gibbs also faces a summer of real uncertainty at club level. Reports on Wednesday suggest Arsenal are ready to sell and replace him with FC Lorient's Raphael Guerreiro. According to the Independent, "they have been impressed with the left-back, and hope to use their long-standing links with the Breton club to sign the Portugal international when the transfer window reopens." It was from Lorient that Arsenal purchased Laurent Koscielny from in 2010.
Guerreiro, 22, has broken into the Portugal first-team and, as well as being four years younger than Gibbs, he is expected to play at the Euros this summer. He represents youth and promise, whereas increasingly Gibbs has come to represent arrested development and a stalled career.
It has not helped Gibbs that his positional rival is probably Arsenal's most consistent player. Nacho Monreal has had a season of few dramatic peaks but no troughs either; none of the dips in form which might allow a manager to try something else at left-back. The Spaniard signed a new contract in January to confirm his central importance for Arsenal.
As a result this is Gibbs' least productive campaign since 2010-11, Gael Clichy's last season at the club, and the time is surely right for a parting of ways. Monreal is only recently 30 and Arsenal need a younger option for when the Spaniard's grip on a first-team place starts to loosen in a few years. Gibbs is no longer one for the future, or indeed the present.
If he does become the first member of the over-hyped but under-delivering "British core" to depart on a permanent basis -- Carl Jenkinson having spent two successive loan spells with West Ham -- the impact will be more symbolic than anything else. Cutting loose an academy product in order to pluck an unheralded player from the depths of Ligue 1 seems like a return to the Arsenal transfer policy of old. But it doesn't signal a cultural change: it's just a pragmatic decision based on Gibbs' value, or lack of it, to the squad.
He has been an excellent servant for Arsenal when fit, although repeated injuries have narrowed that window significantly over the years. But the truth is that Gibbs has never really pushed on and become the player Arsenal hoped he would when he enjoyed his breakthrough at the 2007 Emirates Cup.
Just as supporters invested their hopes in Gael Clichy as the successor to Ashley Cole in 2006, only to discover he wasn't as good as the original, so the process repeated when Clichy left for Manchester City in 2011 and Gibbs was identified as the answer. It was a succession of diminishing returns.
Monreal, though, has broken the cycle. His ascendancy has pushed a rival to the sidelines and a change is now inevitable if Gibbs is to resurrect his career for both club and country.