When Ashley Cole left Arsenal in such acrimonious circumstances in 2006, there was widespread belief amongst Arsenal fans that it wasn't that bad a deal. Arsenal had received money, and William Gallas. And Gael Clichy had always looked too good to just play understudy all his career. People thought he was ready to step up.
So how did that work out?
Well, Gallas was a fine defender. But he and Kolo Toure did not form a complimentary partnership. They were probably too similar- quick and hard to beat along the ground, relatively weak in the air.
Then there was the legacy of his season as captain. In 07/08, he started in inspirational mood, scoring some important goals. But as Arsenal suffered the first of many title race implosions in recent years, Gallas buckled under the pressure. He exploded at Birmingham after a certain Mr. Clichy gave away a penalty with a mistake of awe-inspiring stupidity.
He was eventually stripped of the captaincy but fans never really forgave Gallas for his tantrum at the end of the Birmingham game. It was pretty embarrassing stuff, but I always felt for Gallas a bit. He had come from Chelsea, where he was surrounded by big characters, to Arsenal, where he was asked to be the big character. He was never really captain material.
His poor relationship with Toure meant that Kolo left in 2009, and his poor relationship with Nasri probably contributed to Gallas's own departure in 2010. In other words, while it was not all Gallas's fault, he ended up causing more problems than he solved in his time at Arsenal.
But what about Clichy- how did he fare in trying to replace Ashley Cole?
Being lenient, you would say he has been an adequate left back, but certainly not as good as his predecessor. Being a little more harsh, but honest, you would say that he has often been a downright liability. 07/08 may well have been his best season- he even produced a few decent crosses for once- but it was tarnished in a big way by the aforementioned mistake against Birmingham. And it's not as if we hadn't been warned- he made a very similar error, one that also cost Arsenal a goal but not the game, against Manchester City a few weeks earlier. His game has been sprinkled with errors ever since that season. His concentration and consistency are just not up to scratch. You won't win titles with a left back like that.
Clichy's problems are made more clear by Sagna on the other side, who is a real seven out of ten every week full back- solid and reliable. He is better in defence and, although not a frightening player going forward, he is certainly more productive than Clichy- although he could also do with improving his crossing.
The sad fact is, as much as Arsenal fans would hate to admit it, they have missed Ashley Cole hugely. He has almost always, since his departure, been one of the two or three best left backs in the world. When Clichy first came to Arsenal and broke into the team while Cole was injured, there was genuine hope that Wenger had unearthed a Cole Clone. The truth has been rather different. In fact, Mathieu Flamini was a more reliable defender at left back in the run to the Champions League final of 2006 than Clichy has ever been.
Now, with a year to run on his contract, Clichy has refused a new deal and seems certain to leave this summer. Because of his contract situation, it will be a cut-price deal, and Liverpool have apparently just offered 5 million pounds for his services.
Wenger may be loathe to sell to a fellow Premiership club, but while Clichy has been a decent servant to the club, and was no doubt a popular figure in the largely French dressing room, he should not be sorely missed.
Some will now suggest the promotion of Kieran Gibbs but that would be a little rash. His impact in the games he has played has often been overstated- as these things often are where young English players are concerned. More importantly, he spends far too much time out injured to be trusted with the role. In other words, it looks like Arsene Wenger has yet another pressing transfer priority for this summer- a reliable left back.