By Adam Clark
Ashley Cole is arguably the best example of the success of Arsène Wenger's youth policy.
The left back signed as a trainee in 1998, made his debut in November 1999 and went on to make 228 first-team appearances. In that time he developed into arguably one of the best left backs in the world, winning two Premiership titles and three FA Cups with the Gunners.
His understanding with Robert Pires and Thierry Henry was key to Arsenal's success and never more so than in the unbeaten season of 2003/04. The three combined to add solidity and flair down the left flank; Cole provided the support, Pires created the chances, Henry found the net.
But on transfer deadline day last summer Cole moved across London to Premiership champions Chelsea. Wenger had no time to find a replacement but looked to his faithful youth system once more.
Arsenal fans already knew about Gael Clichy. The Frenchman, who by style and ability looked cut from the same cloth as Cole, had already proved a suitable deputy. Now he had the chance to be his long-term replacement.
But which player has best risen to his new challenge? We take a look at this season's statistics and assess their form.
When it comes to distribution Cole has the upper hand in terms of accuracy. The Chelsea man has found a team-mate with 110 of his 159 passes, a success rate of 69.2 per cent. Clichy, although only accurate 60.8 per cent of the time, has provided 127 accurate passes, 17 more than his predecessor.
When you break this down and average it out against the number of minutes they've each played, you discover both players have successfully offloaded the ball once every 17 minutes. Going into Sunday's game at Emirates Stadium Clichy has played 2169 minutes, 323 more than Cole.
The Frenchman has been more efficient than his counterpart when it comes to tackling. Cole has attempted 54 challenges this season, coming out on top on 33 occasions. Clichy in comparison has made 46 challenges but dominated an equal number of battles, 33.
As previously mentioned Cole's game has always been as much about getting forward and supporting as defending. So there is little surprise he has been marginally more productive from crosses. Chelsea have benefited from four of Cole's 19 crosses this campaign, while Arsenal have made the most of just two of Clichy's 27. In fairness, right back Emmanuel Eboue is now a more likely provider in this department.
However, Clichy has been more efficient in taking play forward. Both have taken on an opponent on 33 occasions but our current left back has retained possession 16 times, four more than Cole.
Disregarding the statistics for a moment, the bottom line is that Chelsea and Cole, until this week, have spent the season fighting on four fronts. They already have silverware after defeating our youngsters in the Carling Cup Final and could yet add the Premiership and FA Cup.
Arsenal may be set to finish the season empty-handed but on Sunday they could all but prevent a third successive league title heading to Stamford Bridge. Yet whatever medals end up on the mantlepiece at Chez Cole, Clichy should be proud.
The Cole-shaped hole could easily have become a media scapegoat
for Arsenal's lack of success this season. It's a credit to
his successor that no such suggestions have been made.
View Gael Clichy's player profile
Head to Head Statistics Gael Clichy Ashley Cole Premiership Appearances 25 23 Minutes on pitch 2169 1846 Attacking Goals 0 0 Shots on target 1 3 Shots off target 7 3 Shots blocked 0 2 Offside 2 0 Supporting Assists 1 2 Passes made 209 159 Passes complete 127 110 Passes incomplete 82 49 Crosses successful 2 4 Crosses unsuccessful 27 19 Total dribbles 23 23 Dribbles successful 16 12 Dribbles unsuccessful 7 11 Defending Tackles made 46 54 Tackles won 33 33 Tackles lost 13 21 Interceptions 18 10 Blocked Shots 6 8 Clearances 37 39 Penalties Conceded 0 0 Own Goals 0 0 Discipline Fouls 16 13 Yellow Cards 2 4
NB: Statistics as at Friday, May 4, 2007.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 4 May 2007