LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal heads past Connor Goldson of Shrewsbury Town to score their first goal during the Carling Cup Third Round match between Arsenal and Shrewsbury Town at Emirates Stadium on September 20, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
In 264 games, Gael Clichy scored 2 goals for Arsenal. In 30 games this season, Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos have scored twice that amount. Bacary Sagna has also chipped in with a goal, reminding Arsenal what they were missing in the months of December and January. The latter is partially responsible for the resurgent form of Theo Walcott, while the former, Kieran Gibbs, made the breakthrough against Aston Villa yesterday afternoon. Arsenal's revival of form has coincided with the return of Sagna and Gibbs (and later Carl Jenkinson and Santos), and there is an added dimension to Arsenal's play, giving them more fluidity.
Arsenal's bias this season has been to play to the right side, perhaps best shown by the recent match against Newcastle, where 48% of their attacks came down the right hand side. This season, 37% of Arsenal's attacks have come down the right, compared to just 31% on the left side, and 32% through the middle. There are several reasons for that; the loss of Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas, and their ability to spread play equally hasn't helped, and with all of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin being right footed, Arsenal's left winger tends to like to come inside. Arsenal's wide players coming inside is nothing new; Samir Nasri did it last year, as did Robert Pires for the Invincibles, but that tendency was balanced by Ashley Cole's attacking prowess.
That attacking ability, though, has been missing from Arsenal's left backs for quite some time. Gael Clichy was a solid defensive player, but his crossing was more often than not very poor, and he also didn't make the type of supporting runs that Kieran Gibbs or Andre Santos do. Both, like Ashley Cole, started as wingers, which gives them the intelligence to make supporting runs, giving Arsenal width, or, as Gibbs did yesterday, offering a goal threat.
This is crucial for both of Arsenal's wingers, but in different ways. Bacary Sagna goes forward and supports Theo Walcott by offering an option when Walcott gets double-teamed, but he rarely in front of the Arsenal winger unless he gets played in by Walcott or someone else; Kieran Gibbs, on the other hand, has made lots of forward runs, especially in the past two games. By moving up the touchline, he offers Arsenal more width as Gervinho or Aaron Ramsey or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Yossi Benayoun moves inside. Thus, he doesn't only support the left winger by adding another option for combination play, but he also can make attacking runs ahead of Arsenal's left winger, as he did for his goal against Aston Villa. Both of these help break teams down; by making advanced runs, Gibbs can add another option to make a driving run to either score, or cutback, or win a foul through his rather impressive dribbling skills. Another way Gibbs can help break teams down is by giving width on the left hand side, something that Arsenal traditionally missed when Gael Clichy was the left back.
While Gibbs goes forward, either Alex Song or Mikel Arteta drops deeper to give Arsenal a loose back 3 and prevent the space he leaves behind being exploited. The result is a very fluid Arsenal attack that now has a much more well-rounded attack despite the bias towards the right side. Kieran Gibbs' attacking play gives them balance by his support of the left sided attacking player who likes to come inside, with his attacking runs giving Arsenal's playmakers more options, or his width giving Arsenal a chance to work the ball into the penalty area, either through passing or crossing. Gibbs has been heavily involved in creating chances for Arsenal with this kind of play, and as Arsenal enter the final 8 games of the season, the goals are being shared around the team, with Robin van Persie "only" scoring 32% of Arsenal's goals in this winning run. With the full-backs back, Arsenal no longer look like a broken team.