Friday 24 November 2017

Gibbs' return to Emirates like a family reunion, admits Wenger

Kieran Gibbs returns to the Emirates tonight in the colours of West Brom. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Kieran Gibbs returns to the Emirates tonight in the colours of West Brom. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Jonathan Liew

The return of Kieran Gibbs to the Emirates in the colours of West Bromwich Albion tonight will be like a family reunion, according to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Gibbs spent 14 years at Arsenal and Wenger said: "He did not have to leave. He wanted to play. It was a difficult decision but when a guy has given you so many years, you have to accept that."

The left-back was not going to get the game time he was after yet Wenger was keen to keep him.

"Ideally, you want stability," he said. "You want players who carry the values for the generations.

"Is it like losing a member of the family? Of course. And I believe for them as well, it must be difficult to make that step."

Gibbs claimed that joining West Brom would turn him into a better defender.

Fifth-choice

What did Wenger make of that? "You should ask him," he said, pointedly. "He will have more to defend, maybe. They are a team who focus more on defending. We are a team that goes forward."

Gibbs is 27 and has perhaps eight years left at the top. In a World Cup year he is - charitably - England's fifth-choice left-back.

History will tell him that his chances of returning to a top-six club, or even playing Champions League football again, are odds against.

The evidence suggests that, once again, Wenger has dealt at the right time.

"You look at the players who performed here and left, and come back to me after," said Wenger, toasting his own judgement.

And it was hard not to see in those words a coded challenge to players such as Gibbs, rebooting their careers.

Gibbs came through the ranks at Arsenal before breaking into the first team at 18 and going on to represent the club 230 times in all competitions.

He was limited to just 11 Premier League outings last season and the summer arrival of Sead Kolasinac was always likely to force the 27-year-old out of the club.

Yet, Wenger insisted: "He did not ask to leave, it was a mutual decision. He wanted to play - he's 27, or 28. You want to play at that age.

"It was a difficult decision but on the other hand when a guy has given you so many years you have to accept that if he is not sure to play.

"It is a fact that we have got Kolasinac, you cannot keep three left-backs (along with Nacho Monreal)."

Wenger also admitted it was painful to lose players like Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was sold to Liverpool on deadline day, after years of building their careers at the club.

"Ideally you want stability and you want players who carry the values for the generations," he said.

"Overall it's true that with Gibbs (it hurt) more than Chamberlain because he had been educated at Arsenal from the age of 10. When he arrived he was a left-winger. I transformed him into a full-back because he was not necessarily rated as a guy who would make it as a left winger but I saw something in him that was very intelligent, with pace, that made me feel he could make it as a left-back.

"(Academy players) carry the values that you think are important, which are based on mental qualities, humility, respect and commitment, and as well football qualities which means you always try to play in a positive way. Plus real team play and focusing on a collective way."

Mesut Ozil is in line to return to the Arsenal team for tonight's game.

The Germany midfielder has been struggling with a knee injury but is now back in training, while Theo Walcott should be fit despite being forced off with a knock in the midweek Carabao Cup win over Doncaster.

Danny Welbeck (groin), Francis Coquelin (hamstring) and Santi Cazorla (ankle) are out, as is Calum Chambers who has suffered a recurrence of a recent hip problem. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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