Clichy: The harmony is back at Arsenal
If Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was a politician canvassing for support from the masses over the last few months, he may have struggled to win re-election.
Like any legendary leader, Wenger is guaranteed the backing of his disciples who have followed him on his extraordinary journey to the top and yet there are a group who question whether his much hyped trophy drought is proof that he is losing his touch.
In a summer, when the departures of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor weakened a team that came up short in all competitions last season, Wenger's messages of hope and optimism have been falling on deaf ears amid sceptics whose memories of his achievements during his historic 13-year reign at Arsenal have faded after recent failures.
So it falls to his foot soldiers to promote the merits of their chief and, in Gael Clichy, the Arsenal manger has a player who stayed loyal to the Wenger cause amid rumours that he could have made a move to Real Madrid during the summer.
After a start to the season that has seen solid progress in the Champions League and a handful of impressive Premier League wins, Clichy insists the most important step forward Arsenal have taken this season has only been experienced by those on the inside.
While he is too shrewd to publicly identify the departures of Adebayor and Toure as the primary reason for the newly discovered harmony, Clichy believes it has now descended on the Arsenal dressing room, and you don't have to peel too deeply under his carefully diluted words to appreciate what he is alluding to.
"Everything in our team feels totally different this time and I cannot explain why," begins Clichy, smiling as he delivers his well-crafted assessment. "You could say this is because certain players left, but it feels like we are much more of a united squad once again. Everyone knows we had problems in our dressing room last season, there is no point in denying this. We are in a high profile job and every argument we have is uncovered and spoken about in the newspapers.
"If you have an argument with your wife at home, even if you say things that are hurtful in the heat of the moment, you find a way to get around it. It's not so easy when the argument becomes so high profile in the media.
"So for us, it's always better if you can avoid the disagreement in the first place and this is where we are right now. Hopefully our two centre-backs can have a good relationship and get on with each other this season and the same with everyone in the squad. It's more difficult to win if you are unhappy with your team-mates and, even though I'm sure we will still have some arguments, everything feels calmer now."
The theory that Wenger's reluctance to turn to the transfer market in a bid to solve his problems was due to a lack of funds at his disposal was burst when Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood gave his exclusive interview to ESPN Soccernet last week.
From the moment Hill-Wood confirmed the club had the finances to spend big in the transfer market and it was a prudent Wenger who had opted to ignore that vast cash pot, the pressure was poured onto his Arsenal players to succeed at last and Clichy admits the time has come for this team to deliver.
"We have been saying this is the year we will win something for a little too long now and some people don't believe us anymore," he concedes. "It seems like a long time since we won a trophy, so this team is hungry to put that right. The important thing is for us to believe in ourselves and everyone wants to succeed for the boss. He has given us our chance at the top level, taught some of us how to play this game and we want to repay his faith in the best way possible.
"None of us will hide behind anything. Some of our fans are frustrated and asked questions about our manager when we lost to Manchester United and Manchester City, but they have to stay behind the team and show faith in us. We need the supporters more than ever and I can tell them that we fighting for each other once again."
It seems easier to associate the fresh-faced Clichy with Arsenal's sparkling Emirates Stadium rather than their famous old Highbury home, yet he and Cesc Fabregas are the only two members of Wenger's unbeaten 'Invincibles' side that went unbeaten through the 2003-04 Premier League season still at the club.
So, having sampled the ultimate winning feeling, Clichy is more determined than most to see the glory days return and it seems domestic success inspires him much more than a European triumph.
"I would rather finish in the top four or try to win the Premier League than focus on the Champions League," he admits. "Some Arsenal fans may want us to win in Europe as it is the one trophy the club have never won, but winning the Champions League and finishing sixth in England is no use to us.
"Anyway, I don't believe the team that wins the Champions League is automatically the best in Europe. Maybe they are a top team who had a bit more luck than the rest and that is not the test of a truly great side. In a one-off game, anything can happen and we saw that with our Champions League semi-final against Manchester United last season. The big moments went against us and they went to the final instead of us. It was hard to take, but this happens in cup football.
"The Premier League is different because the best sides win over a longer period, so I see it as the ultimate test. We have lost a couple of games already, but I still believe we can win the title. The critics say we play nice football and never win anything, but we have to believe the way we play will eventually see us winning trophies again. We have been so close for the last two seasons and the challenge has to be getting over the line now."
Wenger has long inspired fierce loyalty from his players and if Clichy's sentiments are to be believed, those who have written off the Arsenal boss as yesterday's man may be wise to hold back their obituaries for a little while yet.
• Gael Clichy was at at Highbury Square, the former home of Arsenal Football Club, which has been transformed into a unique residential development and officially opened last week. For further information on the limited available apartments please visit www.highburysquare.com or call 0845 262 6000.