Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Saturday April 3 2010
March was a very good month for Arsenal, winning three of their four Premiership fixtures, drawing the other, as well as a resounding win over Porto and a creditable comeback draw against Barcelona. Therefore, there is a smorgasbord of selection for March`s Player of the Month. Cesc Fabregas continues to grow into the role of El Capitan; his mercurial talent and the consistency of his delivery always ensures he is a prime candidate for recognition but we have really seen the young man grow into a leader since the Stoke match last month. If Eduardo`s leg break and the surrounding debris was the beginning of the end of Gallas` tenure as captain, Ramsey`s leg break and the subsequent literati is the end of the beginning for Cesc. The sight of him playing through the pain barrier for his team when most players would be casting anxious eyes at the World Cup makes him the bona fide general that this team look to now. Bar his dire display against Barcelona, Abou Diaby can claim to have had a good month, nudging himself just ahead of Denilson in the pecking order. Nicklas Bendtner has made a tangible difference to the team, registering four goals and four assists in the month of March. Most notable would have been his gutsy hat trick against Porto after his profligacy in the Burnley match, but one mustn`t ignore his contributions to our two goals against Barcelona. The boy is performing at the very highest level. Samir Nasri too is beginning to cement his status as a first choice amongst our cavalcade of attacking talent, the absence of Cesc Fabregas will place yet more responsibility on his shoulders.
However, worthy candidates though the aforementioned are, my Player of the Month award goes elsewhere. Arsene has long been fond of the phrase, "Great players do their talking on the football pitch, not in the newspapers." If ever the manager has had a player under his stewardship that is the embodiment of that phrase, it would have to be Gael Clichy. The affable left back has been a long term fan favourite- even prior to the abdication of Ashley Cole, due not just to the manner and quality with which he plays, but because of his quiet professionalism. In the last two months more than ever however, the temptation for Clichy to release some invective must have been great. After succumbing to a long term back injury in the autumn, Clichy returned in late January to quiet disapproval. After Ashley Young, Nani and Didier Drogba consecutively tore him a new one upon his return, the word on the street was that Clichy was finished. Whilst it is true that nowadays players are routinely written off before being venerated as world class again within a few days (Theo Walcott anyone?) I privately felt there might be some credence in the thinking.
Very few players, if any, resume playing at their normal level instantly after an elongated spell on the sidelines. My main concern was the area of his injury, lower back problems can have long term ramifications (Rio Ferdinand anyone?), but for a player such as Clichy, whose game is based upon speed and mobility and quick changes of direction, I felt it could be terminal. Most had quietly felt Gael hadn`t been playing well prior to his incarceration in the treatment room, but there again his back injury has plagued him for some years. In a rare interview earlier this month, Clichy confirmed he had found it difficult to adjust to the 4-3-3 formation. One of the system`s few pitfalls has been the lack of protection afforded the full back, it also means the full back`s flank partner plays even higher up the pitch, leaving guts that little bit more busted to join attacks. Throw into the mix that Clichy typically plays behind Arshavin, hardly the most conscientious in tracking back and it`s not hard to see why Gael`s form was patchy. But this month, much like the team, he has quietly regrouped and started putting in his typical displays of speed, skill and grit. He still has his searing pace which both compliments our attacks and enables him to steal in front of opposing players and be the springboard for attack.
One of Clichy`s most over looked qualities is his steel. Whenever the chips are down, Clichy is a guy that raises himself and inspires those around him through his work ethic. He was one of only three players who did not look totally lost for large swathes of Wednesday night (Bendtner and Denilson the others), yet when we went 2-0 down it was Clichy who ran the most, who wanted the ball, who tackled and scurried forward at every opportunity. That application of energy is contagious in such situations. He has played every match this month and has played excellently in every single one, beginning to look more like an assured old head at the back. The manager spoke last month about how full back has become one of the most important positions in modern football as full backs are often asked to begin attacks from tight spaces. Clichy never disappoints in this regard. His crossing has improved ten fold in the last 12 months and having been publicly written off he has shown quiet determination and application to prove people wrong. Self flagellation can often miss the mark, if you keep your head down, your mouth shut and you perform, people tend to notice. So let us hail Gael, the Hurricane is a blowing once again.LD.
Previous Players of the Month:
August: Alex Song
September: Robin van Persie
October: Robin van Persie
November: Cesc Fabregas
December: William Gallas
January: Cesc Fabregas
February: Thomas Vermaelen
Date:Saturday April 3 2010
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