There’s Something About Gael Clichy

Gael Clichy became the youngest player to win a Premier League medal in 2004 at the mere age of 18. Wenger’s scouting system had spotted the young Frenchman in 2003 when he was playing for Cannes, and relegation woes with the club led him to signing for the Gunners later that year in August. Speedy, technically gifted, with a good eye for the ball and with decent ball control, he was one of Arsenal’s brightest prospects … and started to fulfill this potential when Ashley Cole left for Chelsea in 2006. But his blossoming career is littered with injuries, big and small and for me, they are a part of the larger ‘problem’ where the transformation of Gael Clichy, from a brilliantly promising youngster to a mature, world-class player, is concerned.

Cole’s 20 year old understudy finally got a chance to prove his worth when Ashley Cole fractured his metatarsal in 2005. But a similar injury saw him out of action while he underwent an operation on his fractured foot. When he finally got a chance to play regularly for the first-team after Cole left for the blue shores of Stamford Bridge, he started to fulfill some of that potential, and very soon was considered a guy on his way to becoming one of the best left-backs in the world. But it has been a couple of years since then and not only has he not reached that level, but he has also maybe retreated a few steps. The Gael Clichy of today, though still fast and committed on the left wing, is prone to defensive errors, guilty of wrong positioning and also failing to defend successfully against the stronger, pacy wingers and players (Nani in the recent 3-1 loss to Manchester United is just one of the examples.)

There is likely to be a combination of factors involved in this, rather than one major, pressing issue. Injuries seem to play a big role in this. Clichy’s first-team career has been interrupted with enough injuries that have pretty much ensured that he spends an awful lot of energy in returning to full-fitness and settling in to first-team action, only to be back on the treatment table just when he is starting to get into the groove and show signs of improvement. And maybe this is the reason he has lost a bit of his earlier pace too.

Strength, I feel, is another issue. He’s not exactly the smallest of guys, and has always been more pacy than muscular but he used to be able to hold his own against his opponents when he started out. In the last few years however, the ever-present physicality in the English game has only increased and this, coupled with his injury problems seem to be valid reasons for his relative under-performances. Perhaps a better defensive coach, or newer defensive training techniques might help. Not only Clichy, but all of the Arsenal back-four, who despite better performances this season, have always been shaky and unpredictable, especially with set-pieces and long ball situations.

Defensive duties aside, forward runs down the flank, forays into the box as well as well-timed and well-aimed crosses have always been a part of Clichy’s repertoire but of late, he also seems a bit out of sorts in those areas. (Maybe it’s due to the new 4-3-3 formation the Gunners have been using this season, where a lot of the work is done by the midfield and the wingers)

It seems to be a case of Clichy lacking confidence and a steady run of matches with decent performances more than anything to be on the way to becoming the Gael Clichy all Gooners know he can be. And hopefully, a bit of competition in the form of very promising youngster Kieran Gibbs (who is currently out with a metatarsal injury) will boost his motivation to be back to his best and more!

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