In recent years, Arsene Wenger has taken youth development to the next level at Arsenal, using the Carling Cup to give many of the clubs up and coming stars the chance to prove themselves on the big stage. A selected few have broken into the first team as a result, one of those being 19 year old left back Kieran Gibbs.
Gibbs started his career at Wimbledon Academy as a left winger, his trickery and pace catching the eye of many Premier League clubs. In 2004, when Wimbledon disbanded and became Mk Dons, Gibbs made the move to Premier League giants Arsenal. Although Gibbs played on the wing, the academy noticed similarities between him and former Arsenal left back Ashley Cole, now believed by many to be the best full back in the world.
Having spent three years in the youth system developing into a left back, he was rewarded in September 2007 when the club offered him a professional contract.
Just weeks after signing the contract, he was named in Arsene Wenger’s 2007/2008 Champions League squad proving how highly he was rated by Wenger.
His first team debut was to be just around the corner in the Carling Cup tie with Sheffield United. The home fans were sure to provide a hostile atmosphere and it was to be Gibbs’ first taste of professional football. It was one him and his team mates came through with flying colours, impressing in a 3-0 victory and a clean sheet for Gibbs and his defensive counterparts.
In the January transfer window, with Kieran seen by many at the club as one for the future, Wenger was keen for him to get some more experience and as a result he went out on loan to Norwich City for the rest of the season. Gibbs made seven appearances for the Canaries, a vital part of his development with Arsenal.
On his return, Gibbs continued to impress with his frightening pace and improved defensive qualities but with fellow left back Gael Clichy fully fit, his first team opportunities were once again limited to the Carling Cup and pre-season friendlies in the 2008/2009 season. He did however make both his Champions League and Premier League debuts that season, signalling his arrival on the world stage of football.
Gibbs had received these opportunities courtesy of an unfortunate injury to Clichy and with the season reaching, a crucial time both in Europe and on the home front; Gibbs was set to face his biggest challenge yet. This began with his first Champions League start in the quarter final 2nd leg against Villarreal. Although young and inexperienced, he thrived under the spotlight helping Arsenal triumph to a 3-0 victory and a place in the last four.
Next on the horizon (in April) was a titanic FA Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea, a challenge that Gibbs once again took in his stride. The nineteen-year-old set up fellow youngster Theo Walcott for the opening goal before Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba broke Arsenal hearts in a 2-1 defeat.
Despite the agony of the semi-final defeat, it was another stepping stone for the left-back on his way to stardom. With Clichy still absent, Gibbs was enjoying his longest ever spell in the first team.
Arsenal were handed a mouth-watering Champions League semi final tie with Manchester United and with Clichy still sidelined, Gibbs was set to be put to the sword by the best winger in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. Many saw the battle as a major mismatch between arguably the world’s best player and an inexperienced youth player. However this was not to be the case in the first leg at Old Trafford as Gibbs snuffed out a number of Ronaldo’s dazzling runs. They did however go away from Old Trafford with a 1-0 defeat, but with the return leg at the Emirates, Arsenal were confident of reaching the final.
With the emphasis on Arsenal to make the breakthrough, Gibbs was joining the attack at every opportunity, however, this back fired early in the first half when United broke and an unfortunate slip from Gibbs left Park Ji Sung to slot home.
United went on to run riot, reaching the final with an aggregate score of 4-1 over the two legs. Gibbs was understandably distraught after making a costly mistake and it looked like being a major setback in his career.
If anything it has made the hopeful prospect stronger this season, continuing to vie for a place in the starting XI with Gael Clichy and making half a dozen appearances in the England U21 set up.
With Kieran in the form of his life and the World Cup just around the corner, many feel he could be Ashley Cole’s understudy in South Africa next year. Heartbreaking then that he is forced to be sidelined after suffering a broken metatarsal against Standard Liege last month, but with time on his side Kieran Gibbs looks set to pull on an England shirt for many years to come.