What a difference a couple of goals, a new hairstyle and half-a-season of captaincy can make.
This time last season William Gallas was almost as far from an Arsenal favourite as the man he replaced at the club after series of unconvincing displays and a tendency to speak a little too publicly about the problems that he believed were affecting Arsenal. But since surprisingly being named captain by manager Arsene Wenger, Gallas has grown as a player as well as a leader and a series of dominant defensive displays, as well as two crucial recent goals against Manchester United and Wigan have illustrated this improvement perfectly.
Tellingly, the feedback on Gallas from his teammates has been nothing but positive. Last week Gael Clichy hailed his fellow countryman for promoting the team spirit within the camp and just yesterday Kolo Toure gave a glowing tribute to the influence that Gallas has had on the side since being appointed as Arsenal captain.
“Both on and off the pitch, William is a really good captain. He is loud in the dressing-room, he has a big heart, and everything he says and does is for the team and that is the most important quality in a captain.”
For Gallas to receive that sort of praise from one of the other true leaders in the group really says it all about the impact that he is making this season. There weren’t too many people who were thrilled when Gallas was named captain – indeed, I was almost certain that Gilberto Silva would be appointed – but the Frenchman has lifted considerably since taking on the responsibility.
He seems to enjoy protecting the younger players around him, a point that was perfectly illustrated by his confrontation with Marcus Bent and Emile Heskey on the weekend against Wigan. While he walked away with a yellow card after clashing with Heskey, the caution was little price to pay to get the message across to the Wigan players to think again about bringing down one of his teammates. It was the sort of act that Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were known for and in my eyes showed just how much Gallas cares about the players that he leads. Long may it continue.
Bendtner to get his chance
Moving onto the Champions League clash away to Sevilla now and the Arsenal manager has predictably commented that he will be making major changes to the side that beat Wigan on Saturday. Wenger revealed that both Gallas and Emmanuel Adebayor will be rested (about time for Adebayor too, I’m surprised he hasn’t exploded this season!) while Clichy will miss out due to a minor thigh injury. Wenger also indicated that Mathieu Flamini is unlikely to return but was keen to stress that Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner will start.
“We leave out William Gallas and Emmanuel Adebayor while Gael Clichy is injured. I wanted to start [Mathieu Flamini] but we do not have good indications from training today. We will see tomorrow. Nicklas Bendtner will start – I want to give him a chance.”
The manager has consistently stated that Adebayor and Bendtner are too similar to play together up front and with the Togolese forward being rested it is onlt right that the Dane be given an opportunity. I really feel that Bendtner’s contribution this season has gone a little bit under the radar and that he has played a big part in the side’s useful habit of scoring late goals. Bendtner has consistently come on late in games and helped turn the tide (Blackburn, Liverpool and Wigan are just examples) and he deserves nothing less than an opportunity to shine against one of the Primera Liga’s best sides.
Enough quality to get a win in Spain
The same can be said of a number of other young Arsenal players, and the clash away to Sevilla should provide the perfect test for the fringe players to lay out their credentials for all to see. Whilst the starting side should be very similar to the one that stuttered to draw in the rain against Slavia Prague, some better weather and a far more attacking opponent will give the youngsters a more familiar and comfortable venue to express themselves.
Wenger has spoken about how important it is for the side to keep their unbeaten run going and a draw away to Sevilla should be enough to ensure Arsenal finish top of the group, granted they beat Steaua Bucharest at home a fortnight later. While Sevilla will provide a very tough opponent I really do feel that desire to maintain that unbeaten start will ensure that Wenger’s side get at least a point out of the trip to Spain. I am going to go even further and predict that Arsenal will walk away with all three points against Sevilla.
The midfield combination of Lassana Diarra and Denilson were excellent against Wigan and with Bendtner, Eduardo da Silva and Theo Walcott all looking like starters, Wenger has more than enough attacking power to hurt Sevilla. Away games are always tough in the Champions League but with Arsenal in excellent form and the fringe players fighting tooth-and-nail for a first-team position, I just feel that Wenger’s side will have the desire and quality required to grab the win.
What do you think?
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