Left back Gael Clichy has completed a transfer to Manchester City today, according to the official Arsenal website. The fee is undisclosed, but is thought to be in the range of seven million pounds, according to the Guardian.
[For SBN Manchester City perspective, please visit Bitter and Blue].
The move had been long suspected, as Clichy had not yet signed a new contract with Arsenal. Unlike a couple of other players at the club, he has handled his situation with the highest discretion, never talking to the media in any way about negotiations or his feelings. He has been a faithful servant of the club for eight years, the last remaining (unless one counts Jens Lehmann) player to have received a winner's medal on the team for his part in the 2003-04 Invincibles year. Although he has consistently been one of the top players at his position in the league, there had been a feeling amongst much of the Arsenal support that he was playing below his usual level over the past year or two, and certainly not at the level that he was at in 2007-08.
That being said, he represents an upgrade for a City squad that had perhaps struggled trying to incorporate Wayne Bridge, Aleksandar Kolarov, and Dedryck Boyata into the side at left back. At his best, Clichy is an extremely pacey, crisp-passing left back, but he sometimes struggles with his positioning defensively and crossing offensively. Nevertheless, City have acquired a French international with experience in the Premier League to the tune of 187 appearances, and he will serve them well.
For Arsenal's part, the move leaves them with two players of any experience at left back, Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore. The former is very injury-prone, and the latter has been on loan for the last year. While both have occasionally shown flashes of ability, neither has proven himself to have the consistency necessary for success in the Premier League. Of the two, Gibbs is the most likely to start if things remain as they are with the squad, but Arsène Wenger surely must know that he has a hole to fill if he doesn't want to go into the year taking a huge-huge risk. (How huge? Huge-huge).
Speaking on the official website, Wenger said:
We would like to thank Gael for eight years of terrific service to Arsenal, during which time he gave absolutely everything for the Club. He has grown and developed so much since joining us in 2003, and has been a crucial part of the team over recent seasons. Gael leaves with our respect and best wishes. We wish him the very best for his future career.
While the man himself thanked the club and supporters:
I have had eight fantastic years at Arsenal and made many friends. I have so many great memories from my time at Highbury and Emirates Stadium. I would like to say thank you to everyone at Arsenal for all of their support and friendship. I also want to send a big thank you to all the Arsenal supporters, who have always been so good to me.
Rumors about possible replacements have been numerous, but also mainly uninspiring. The player that most supporters would like to see come in is probably Everton's Leighton Baines, who not only looks like he's from 1971, but has been one of the most consistently awesome English left backs in recent years (the other, well, you know). Knowing Wenger, though, it seems unlikely.
One idea many people have floated has been moving Thomas Vermaelen to left-back, where he often played for Ajax, but his recent injury and adjustment period necessary to play there in the Premier League make that seem unlikely somehow. Arsenal have been linked with numerous defenders over the past month, but so far, there is no word. In true Wenger fashion, we will all just have to wait to hear what his plans are, but surely they don't stop at Gibbs and Traore as first-choice players.
As for Clichy, he is the third high-profile player to move from the Emirates to Eastlands in three years, and City are truly wielding their spending power and league table position to their benefit now. It's up to Wenger and the board to determine how they are going to improve the squad as needed to try to finish above fourth next year, but there is a lot of time left to make changes.
I will always remember Clichy as the marauding, constant presence (49 games!) for Arsenal in 2007-08, the season when most supporters finally felt good about losing he-who-shall-not-be-named. He handled the whole situation with the highest of respect for us and for the club, and I'm sure we all wish him the best of luck going forward, except for when we play him next season. In those cases, I hope he forgets to play the offside trap properly as Theo bursts past him to bury the winner. But that's just me. Other than that, I hope he has the best of success.