It feels like it’s been coming for some time, and now it’s finally happened – one of Arsenal’s most loyal servants has departed to the Arsenal Retirement Home in east London.
In the intermittently great sides that Arsène built between 1998 and 2004, Freddie was a constant. I remember his debut when he chipped a goal against Man U right there in front of me, and I remember watching his beautiful cup final curler against the Russians from a sweaty bar in New York. In his time he was incredibly dynamic, had an unnatural eye for goal and an almost telepathic arrangement with Dennis Bergkamp whereby the latter would pass through the eye of a needle and the former would nick in onto it and score.
But that was then and this is now. He’s had a thoroughly unproductive two seasons and this move has been coming. It’s a sad day as he has been one of the very best, but that’s football.
It’s a shame he parted with a few words: “Two years ago when I signed my last contract we talked a lot about the future and about bringing great players to the club,” he said.
“For me that didn’t really happen… when Henry left this summer it felt like the end for me unfortunately”.
Some people will empathise with what he says – but ultimately, while retaining him would have offered us experience and the odd occasional flash of Freddie brilliance, on the evidence of the last two seasons those moments would have been fewer and further between.
Ah yes, the lost experience – Henry and Ljungberg have now both gone, replaced by players at least five years their juniors. We were a very young side last season and we’re even younger now. We are level on numbers too: five in, and five out (not including Reyes, or any of the young lads we’ve sold, none of whom were in our squad last season).
I’m not too worried by that, but Ljungberg’s departure does tug at the old heartstrings a bit, if only because he was, as he himself said, one of the last remnants of that great 2004 side.
In just three seasons almost all remnants of that unbeaten side have gone.
Lehmann, Cole, Campbell, Toure, Keown, Lauren, Ljungberg, Vieira, Gilberto Pires, Bergkamp, Edu, Parlour, the Kan-man, Sylvanian Witless.
With the exception of Mad Jens and Kolo Toure, they’re all gone.
[oh – and thanks for those who pointed out that in my mind I had sold Gilberto. He’s still here too, of course…]