27 February 2014

Uncertainty at left-back as we prepare to face Stoke...

It looks like we have a bit of a dicey situation at left-back. According to Arsène, speaking at his pre-match press conference, there "are uncertainites about Monreal, who had to come off last week [against Sunderland] with a foot injury and about Gibbs [still recovering from a Ribery—er, buttocks injury]." While it's possible that Gibbs will be fit enough to face Stoke, this thrusts into the delicate position of having to consider Thomas Vermaelen, who is still not 100% and doubtless a bit rusty, having played a mere 45 minutes of football since facing Tottenham on 4 January. Arsène claims that Vermaelen is available, but where does that leave us? Do we play Gibbs at his preferred position on the notion that he's perhaps less-fit but a better fit than Vermaelaen? Is it better to play Vermaelen at left-back where he's out of position, a bit rusty, but perhaps closer to having fresh legs and fitness?

As Arsène put it, "Thomas can play [left back]; it's hot his preferred position and he has been out for a long time now, but we'll see. I still have 48 hours to make a decision." None of the options seems ideal as we face playing one of two (or three) players, none of whom seems fully match-ready. The one closest to it has fallen out of favor for his preferred position, in part due to his own patchy form and in larger part, it must be said, to the improved form of his teammates at that position. With Monreal the least likely to make the trip, what's the best option—the rusty, out-of-favor and out-of-position Vermaelen, or the pained-in-the-arse Gibbs? Casting our net a bit fruther, could we send out Flamini at left back? It may not be his preferred position, but he's at least fully fit and defensive-minded enough to press too far forward, as an overly-aggressive Vermaelen might be.

In the longer term, converting Vermaelen to a versatile defender who can cover at left, right, and center, but that's another question for another day. For Saturday, we'll have to rely on the idea that Stoke does not pose a terribly potent attacking threat so that whoever it is who gets the nod at left-back can put in an eventful shift. We'll take a closer look at that as match-day approaches.

'Til then, feel free to weigh in: who's our best option at left-back against Stoke? Vermaelen, Gibbs, or Flamini?

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