Whilst Arsenal have seemingly failed to implement their once untouchable dominance among the English top flight in recent seasons, Arsene Wenger must still nonetheless be credited for unearthing a wide multitude of exciting talents and definitive attacking favourites during his ongoing spell among the North London dugout.
The long-term Gunners boss has proven particularly shrewd when capturing his fellow French countrymen and allowing them to showcase their natural ability in front of the north London faithful. From the dependable likes of Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires, to the equally impressive Thierry Henry and the slightly underrated Sylvain Wiltord – Arsene Wenger clearly knows an appealing French footballer when he sees one.
Yet not every up and coming Frenchman to pull on the Arsenal colours has proven an all-round resounding success for Wenger. In fact, after gearing up for the start of the 2002/03 Premier League campaign with lofty ambitions set firmly in their minds, Arsenal were on the verge of unveiling arguably one of the worst French imports the English top-flight has ever paid witness to.
His name was Pascal Cygan – and despite landing two FA Cup trophies and one truly astounding league title on the back of Arsenal’s famously unbeaten status as Premier League ‘Invincibles’ – this is one floundering Frenchman who simply failed to inspire the Highbury faithful.
‘He’s bald, he’s s**t, he plays when no one’s fit – Pascal Cygan, Pascal Cygan!” When this is the chant most commonly associated with your name amid the upper echelons of the English top flight, you know life among the Premier League certainly isn’t about to get any easier.
Without putting it lightly, the towering French centre-back looked noticeably out of his depth on almost every given occasion he represented Arsene Wenger’s side. Cygan was costly, prone to receiving the odd nutmeg here and there – and when it came to keeping things nice and solid at the back for the entire 90 minutes – well, perhaps the least said about the Frenchman’s wavering concentration levels and questionable positioning, the better.
But maybe Pascal Cygan’s tumultuous spell at Arsenal should have turned out entirely different. The lofty defender initially arrived among the Premier League after captaining Lille OSC to the Ligue 2 championship, and subsequently leading the plucky French outfit all the way to successful Champions League qualification the following season. No one quite envisaged his team achieving a commendable third place finish that year, yet Cygan proved wholeheartedly instrumental in the club’s quick turnaround in fortunes.
“I was looking at Cygan for a while. It was very difficult to find a good centre back. Of course you have to take a chance and a gamble, but this is a small gamble…”
So just what went so badly wrong for this supposedly experienced and well-versed Frenchman down in north London, then? Despite bagging himself a well-deserved brace in the 4-1 demolition of Fulham back in August of 2005, the rest of Pascal Cygan’s hard-earned Arsenal highlights remain few and far between.
The former Lille captain found himself caught out defensively at a pretty consistent rate, both when operating through the middle as well as at full-back. Unlike the much-maligned but often harshly criticised Per Mertesacker, whose intelligent positional play often masks his alarming lack of speed among the English top-flight – Cygan would panic far too often to be relied upon at the back, sometimes overcompensating with a string of failed last ditch challenges in order to make amends for his previous mistakes.
With the likes of Sol Campbell, Martin Keon and Kolo Toure all proving exceptionally difficult to dislodge among the famed Arsenal backline, it comes as no real surprise that the error-prone Cygan ultimately failed to make the grade for Arsene Wenger’s side – especially with each of Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou looking to stake their respective claims as emerging youngsters at the time.
My lack of trust in bald people is the direct result of trusting Senderos and Cygan in the heart of our defence!
— Mr DT © (@MrDtAFC) June 13, 2017
Although the flailing French defender never short-changed the Arsenal fanbase with his characteristically proficient aerial ability, the Gunners finally saw fit to part ways with their ill-fated defensive signing in the summer of 2006 – allowing Pascal Cygan to move to Villarreal for three brief seasons, where he would eventually be ousted once more to Spanish Segunda Division faring FC Cartagena.
He may not have been the only questionable Frenchman operating for Arsenal during their esteemed golden days amid the prized 2003/04 Premier League season – we’re looking at you right now Jeremie Aliadiere – but all in all, even the notoriously stubborn Arsene Wenger himself would have to admit a fair amount of regret in signing the underperforming centre-back.
Pascal Cygan is one of the answers on Pointless right now. What a time to be alive.
— Daniel Ferreira (@DanFerret) May 4, 2017
As very few Premier League players can actually categorize themselves as earnestly viable and fully justified ‘Invincibles’, however, after enduring an entire domestic campaign with nothing but a hard-fought unbeaten record to their name – maybe the often lambasted French defender is the one who really deserves the last laugh in this instance.
Perhaps now that Pascal Cygan is no longer traumatising his own respective supporters with his distinctly untrustworthy defensive displays and treacherous decision-making, maybe Gunners fans can finally begin to view their former French defender in something of a revitalised light.