The Arsenal juggernaut keeps ticking along at an increasingly ominous rate for the fellow title challengers ahead of Hull’s trip to the Emirates, and Kieran Gibbs can be the key man to ensure it continues.
The likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker are justifiably considered the key cavalry in firing the Gunners to the Premier League summit and leaving them on the cusp of qualification to the Champions League knock-out stages.
But, equally, they would not be there without the secrets to their success, of which Gibbs certainly fits the bill.
While more glamorous than a Denis Irwin or a Nicky Butt, for instance – given his expansive range of passing and regular forward forays – Gibbs shares similar characteristics to the two Manchester United legends in terms of his importance to his side.
United won title after title as much because of Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister as they did due to Irwin’s defensive nous, not to mention dead ball ability. The Irishman is held in such high regard by United fans because of his unsung-hero status but will never be held to be one of the fashionable icons of Sir Alex Ferguson’s glittering era.
But it doesn’t matter. Just as Gibbs’ worth to Arsenal shouldn’t, and mustn’t, be overlooked.
Over on the other flank, Bacary Sagna has looked revitalised after a dip in form last season and Arsenal now possess something of a Plan B from wide areas when the midfield quintet swarming around Olivier Giroud are unable to pick the right lock.
Sadly for Arsenal, Sagna will miss the visit of the Tigers due to a hamstring problem so the onus will fall on Carl Jenkinson and Gibbs to make the sort of offensive raids which the latter has struggled to always achieve this season.
The youthful duo, making up 40% of Arsenal’s progressively influential ‘British Core’, will have no better opportunity to utilise this weapon then against Hull.
The Tigers’ adaptation of a 3-5-2 means Ahmed Elmohamady on the right and left sider Robbie Brady are forced to make up a lot of ground up and down the wing.
Bruce, Hull’s manager now of course, has enjoyed success so far with this particular system, no less than in beating Liverpool in a shock 3-1 win at the weekend, as his plenitude of midfielders combined to stifle and frustrate the Reds in equal measure.
With this in mind, Gibbs’ role takes on an added significance. With Hull setting their stall out to foil the Gunners and use Yannick Sagbo’s incessant running to help launch a counter attack, the natural attacking instincts of Elmohamady can help play into Gibbs’ hands and liberate him offensively.
The Egyptian’s Heat Map and action areas in the win over Liverpool show how Hull can be prone to attacks down their right and, with defensive leader Curtis Davies ruled out due to suspension, there is added pressure on Elmohamady to stick to his defensive guns.
Davies, playing on the right-hand side of the central defensive trio, was outstanding against Liverpool and both he and Jake Livermore – illustrated in their action areas – took it in turns to fill in for the occasionally cavalier Elmohamady.
Gibbs certainly has the weapons in his armoury to overlap the revolving attacking troika of Cazorla, Özil and Wilshere and produce the goods, epitomised by the three chances he has created for his side when going forwards.
But Sagna’s tally of eight is a marked upgrade on that total and offers further insight into how the Gunners will miss their ever-dependable Frenchman; assessing his fellow full back’s average duel success doesn’t make for particularly pleasant reading either.
Only from his headed duels (57%) can Gibbs come away with some credit left to spare and Elmohamady will surely be encouraged by a mere 45% of take ons completed.
But, by the same token, Gibbs is displaying a maturity to his game which was previously questioned about his defensive work. That only Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have made more defensive actions than the left-back suggests as much.
While the stats don’t stack up in Gibbs’ favour as much as he would like, he still ranks as the joint-third best left-back in the Premier League this season, with only Leighton Baines (379) and Patrice Evra (220) ranked higher in performance score proceedings.
And it is for this reason entirely that Gibbs may always find himself taking up the more reduced ‘Irwin’ role than hogging the limelight from his more eminent peers.
Facing Hull, and particularly Elmohamady, presents the 24-year-old with a chance to step out of the woodwork, make the left-hand side his own and help keep the overwhelming force of Arsenal marching into a crucial set of games.