By Chris Harris
Few moments this season have warmed the heart as much as Gael Clichy's return to action. The French left back received a huge ovation when he emerged from the bench towards the end of Saturday's victory over Watford at Emirates Stadium.
Clichy's nine-minute appearance was uneventful but his presence was all-important. A foot injury had limited the 21-year-old to a mere three hours of first-team football since November 5. No wonder Clichy is just happy to be pain-free and back in an Arsenal shirt.
"I don't feel any pain now so I'm just looking forward to playing as much as possible and I want to thank all of the staff - the physio, the doctor and everyone for helping me through the last season," he said.
"It's the same for everyone when you get injured, it is very frustrating. I got three bad injuries last season and yet all of the time I kept reminding myself that there are people worse off than me.
"I just had to keep focused on my rehabilitation and playing again and that's all I could do.
"It was the same injury each time, so maybe the first operation didn't fix the problem properly and the second and third one were the same so it was bad luck as well.
"But this injury is behind me now and I want to look to the future. All of the lads were great to me - Kolo [Toure], Philippe [Senderos], Abou [Diaby] were great to me and gave me a big help as did my family as well.
"You have to be strong in this period because that teaches you a lot about yourself and you learn from that and now I'm here, playing again and I don't want to think about the injury anymore. I just want to play as much as possible."
Before suffering a stress fracture to his foot 11 months ago, Clichy was revelling in a run of six consecutive games as Ashley Cole's deputy while the England full back recovered from an indentical injury.
The Frenchman has had to wait for his opportunities but his patience could now be rewarded. Cole's transfer to Chelsea has cleared Clichy's path to regular first-team football and he intends to stake his claim.
"Ashley was a good friend of mine and I'm very happy for him if he's happy at Chelsea," said Clichy. "But I have to be realistic and I do see it as an opportunity for me. Now I'm just waiting for the boss to give me a chance.
"William [Gallas] can play on the left, Mathieu [Flamini] can also play there and Armand Trarore as well can do that job. We will have to work together and be as good as possible for the team.
"But the boss knows and I know that I'm in a good position to play on the left so I'm just going to work hard and try my best to fight for this position."17 Oct 2006