By Hugo Leenhardt
Our third new writer, Hugo Leenhardt from France provides us with an analysis of France’s best at Arsenal in Clichy, Sagna and Flamini – their development this season and the French’s view on our team.
Arsenal is without a doubt the most followed team here in France and most French people spontaneously answer Arsenal when asked about their favourite team in England. Of course this is mainly due to the long period in which Thierry Henry stayed at Ashburton Grove with Pirès and Vieira. However his departure has not dimmed the passion here and Clichy, Sagna, Flamini, Gallas and to a lesser extent Traoré and Diaby perpetrate the tradition. This stance taken by Wenger has surprisingly raised some criticism in France with several journalists accusing him of “stealing” French talents and therefore impoverishing the Ligue 1.
In my opinion, all Arsene is doing is making them into world-class players instead of letting them keep an average standard in the fifth best league in Europe. This season for me is a very special one when looking at the French players and especially Sagna, Clichy and Flamini. The two defenders have become absolutely essential in the Arsenal line-up as left and right back. The one playing on the right, Bacary Sagna, is probably the fastest growing defender in the league this season. When he arrived last summer nobody even knew his name or where he came from. Even us French Gooners had no idea who he was even though he played almost the whole of the season in 2004-2005 at Auxerre. At 24 years old, he is a complete player: very strong defensively and with a strong offensive contribution even though he is probably less of a danger with his crosses than his fellow teammate Clichy, who is two years younger.
The left back is the most used player in the Arsenal squad this year with 43 appearances (33 in the League). He joined Arsenal in 2004 for a quarter-million and was in Cashley’s shadow for his first three years. He is now the number one choice at his position and probably one of the few players which nobody can complain about. Let alone his two errors against Man City and Birmingham he has been an essential piece in the Arsenal tactics. His deadly crosses are an enormous part of his game and with Adebayor in the penalty box you can be sure that one in every two chances may go in.
The third player and probably the one I admire most is Matthieu Flamini. In 2004, Arsenal probably made the greatest operation in football transfer history when they got him for free (“We got him from Marseille, We didn’t even have to pay”). Although it was seen as a bit of treason here, I have personally enjoyed every minute of his season. As you all know he is the player that has covered the most distance and his nicknames are well deserved: Marathon Man, Running Man, Flattuso… He has been as good in every single game of the season and has never failed physically. Of course, many could say that all he has to do is run and intercept passes.. Well yes, but isn’t that already enough? If continues improving his technique, he can be become a great, great player
This short overview of three very promising French players is a testament to the ‘Buy Young’ policy of Arsene Wenger. I have been appalled by the criticism that has emerged in recent weeks regarding Arsene Wenger. I ask you; who has brought more to this club than Arsene Wenger? Who went unbeaten in 2004? Who went and fetched Thierry Henry? Who caught Fabregas from Barcelona? Who brought us to the Champions League Final? Who enabled us to be the strongest club financially while investing in a new stadium?
I agree that during the summer, Wenger has to sign at least 2 if not 3 strong players like Quaresma, Ben Arfa or Schweinsteiger and I think that he will. However, this does not mean he has to stop his policy that has brought so much to the club….
Here in France, Wenger is simply admired for what he has achieved which is one of the reasons why Nicolas Sarkozy went to visit the Emirates. The critics towards him show a strong lack of support from the supporters, which I would have never suspected from Gooners. This weekend I was at Arsenal v Liverpool on a weekend trip with my friend on which we spent a great deal of money. At the 40th minute, people started leaving the stands for halftime. 42nd : Liverpool scores. Halftime whistle: Booing from Arsenal crowd. The most entertaining team in Europe is playing in front of you and you boo. I was shocked. Just a brief preview of my Arsenal v Liverpool report but that’s for next time…..
“Young players need freedom of expression to develop as creative players… they should be encouraged to try skills without fear of failure.”