Tim Wigmore believes Lauren’s amicable departure from Arsenal is further proof of Arsene Wenger’s enormous faith in Arsenal’s next generation.
Lauren turns 30 on Friday. He played a hugely significant part in Arsenal’s successes from 2001-2005, with his combativeness, athleticism and consummate professionalism. Most managers treasure such experienced team men. Arsene Wenger, however, sensing injury may have damaged him irrevocably and so taken by vivacious stand-ins Emmanuel Eboue and Justin Hoyte, has taken the ruthless decision to allow him to join fellow ex-Arsenal veterans Kanu and Sol Campbell at Portsmouth.
The departure epitomises Wenger’s attitude perfectly. In a game as physically demanding as football, youth is king. He is not a fan of keeping experienced players when men their junior have proved their worth. This line of thinking may also account for Freddy Ljunberg, another key cog in the side that, so sensationally, went 49 Premiership games unbeaten.
The decision to sell Lauren is certainly bereft of sentiment; the Cameroonian right-back never once played a competitive game at arsenal’s new stadium. But Wenger is clearly convinced that, after being out for almost a year, his best days are behind him; he is probably right. Wenger is a superb judge of players; only in a very few cases has his decision to allow a player leave not been vindicated.
Wenger is clearly convinced that, after being out for almost a year, Lauren’s best days are behind him; he is probably right
And equally, Emmanuel Eboue, Justin Hoyte and, in a few appearances last season, Kerrea Gilbert, have all displayed enormous potential at right-back. Given that Arsenal’s current system is short on midfield width, it is hugely significant that their first-choice right-back, Eboue, offers genuine attacking verve with his buccaneering runs from deep. Lauren, for all his admirable attributes, was never such an offensive threat.
Yet Eboue, Hoyte and Gilbert all lack Lauren’s experience and defensive solidarity. Over six and a half years, he has been transformed from a central midfielder to amongst the finest full-backs in the league; over that period, perhaps only Gary Neville has been his superior. Lauren’s commitment – he retired from international football because he thought it would aid his Arsenal performances - and defensive discipline have helped him replace Lee Dixon quite superbly.
And now Eboue, a faster, younger and more attacking player, has replaced him. That is the way of modern-day football. Wenger has taken something of a gamble in relieving his squad of yet another experienced campaigner, after letting Campbell join Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp through the exit door last summer, but he is a forward-thinking manager who thinks only of the future.
Happily, Lauren’s departure has been amicable, with both player and club realising the time was right for the move. Throughout his time at Arsenal, he was a model of consistency, and will be remembered for a nerveless penalty against Tottenham in 2002 and a fantastic goal at Chelsea a year later. Above all, he wore the Arsenal shirt with pride and unrelenting commitment.