Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Gael's Bright Outlook; Highbury's Latest French Import Keen to Just Keep on Learning

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Gael's Bright Outlook; Highbury's Latest French Import Keen to Just Keep on Learning

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE STAMMERS

IF, AS expected, Gael Clichy is entrusted with the task of replacing Ashley Cole at Bolton on Saturday, he will spend the last few minutes before he goes out on to the pitch at the Reebok Stadium in silent meditation.

Cole starts a three-match ban because of his dismissal at Leicester and the young French defender is favourite to come in - just as he did at the Walkers Stadium when the England left-back was sent off.

"I am not loud, not noisy, just very quiet," said the 18-year-old who joined Arsenal for a mere [pounds sterling]250,000 from AS Cannes in the summer.

"First I think about the team and what I can do for them. Then I think about my family back in France, my father and my mother."

However offbeat it sounds as a prematch preparation, it works. Clichy has notched up four first-team starts for Arsenal this season - three in the Carling Cup, in which a semifinal place was secured with a 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night - and once at Birmingham in the Premiership.

Each game has ended in an Arsenal victory and Clichy has not looked out of place.

His emergence owes much to the contacts of Wenger, who was advised to watch the defender last season, and to the judgment of chief scout Steve Rowley, who revealed a few months ago: "I had seen enough in the warm-up, never mind the game.

He looked the part . . . strong, quick, alert. He had the lot."

Nothing Clichy has done so far has proved him wrong. "Yes, I am happy with the way things have gone for me," he said. "But I think I can do more, I can play better. I must work a lot at my positional sense and I must build up my strength. I know when a striker comes at me it is difficult when the guy is strong."

Clichy has a slender frame and pencil-thin legs. But any weakness was not apparent at The Hawthorns under the muscular assault of Albion's powerful team. But Clichy insists: "No, I must get stronger. I have to work hard in training and I watch Ashley Cole and see what he does because he is a fantastic player. …

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