When William Gallas had his temper tantrum at Birmingham following the last minute penalty decision to deny his team all three points, I was sure Arsene Wenger would take the captaincy from him. It would be entirely unacceptable for any player to behave in the way he did, let alone a captain who should know better.
First Gael Clichy was on the receiving end of Gallas’ vile mood, with the full-back being made to feel he was entirely to blame for Arsenal’s predicament. There’s no denying Clichy made a mistake, with a lapse of concentration allowing his opponent in, leading referee Mike Dean to wrongly award Birmingham a penalty, but to berate a young player in such an aggressive way was unnecessary.
Don’t forget, Birmingham had gone down to ten men with just three minutes played, yet still were leading with less than half an hour played. It wasn’t a day when Arsenal had showered themselves in glory, other than the inspired Theo Walcott, so to leave it all on Clichy’s doorstep was uncalled for.
Gallas stood deep in the Arsenal half with his hands on his hips, biting his bottom lip as James McFadden stepped up to take the penalty. Luckily for him, the Scot didn’t miss, so Gallas didn’t have too many questions to answer from his own fans. Had Almunia saved the ball and an unmarked Birmingham player put away the rebound, the Gooner fingers quickly would have pointed in Gallas’ direction. As it was, Willy got away with it.
As the final whistle blew, all of the Arsenal players will have felt the same disappointment. They were still six points clear, there were just a few months to go before the end of the season, but there would definitely have been some fear creeping in. But before there was too much time to dwell on any of these thoughts they were off the field in a shot. Their team mate, Eduardo, had been taken to hospital following a horrific injury and they obviously wanted to know the outcome.
Gallas, on the otherhand, did not rush off the field to hear news on his team mate, nor did he try and console his young team who would have been feeling bitterly disappointed with the result. Instead, he sat in the centre circle crying. This showed his passion for winning, apparently, his desire for Arsenal to do well, his need to get a result for the sake of Eduardo etc. All I saw on the pitch that day was a selfish wannabe who could see this young team he had joined did not have what it took to win a League title and that hurt him. He wanted glory, he wanted medals, he wanted to win. Most Arsenal fans had yet to be convinced by this argument though, with too many of them eager to make excuses for him.
Gunnerblog: Today was an exceptionally emotional day, and Gallas’ actions were certainly exceptionally emotional. He, like the rest of players, desperately needed the consolation of victory to deal with what was an unbelievable end to a very challenging week. At full-time, players and fans alike were disconsolate, as their rollercoaster experience finally took its toll.
Arseblog: The Mirror tries to keep the Gallas thing going saying it took the intervention of teammates to calm him down. They say some of them questioned his leadership, I say ‘How do they know?’. Maybe in the Chelsea dressing room where the egos feed stories to their journalist mates they might have some insight but I call foul on this one.
This opening remark is rather amusing, given that Gallas has done exactly what has been deemed here as a trait of Chelsea players. No Arsenal player would tittle tattle to their journo mates, right? So it continues, giving a Gallas a get out of jail free card because he’s ’emotional’.
I’m told that Gallas spent much of last week with Bacary Sagna after the death of his brother, he then saw a teammate almost crippled for life, then saw the ref give a penalty that was never a penalty in the last minute of the most emotional game any of the Arsenal players have been involved in. I’m not making excuses for him, far from it, but let’s try and put it into a bit of perspective. It was an extraordinary reaction under extraordinary circumstances. It’s over and done with and it’s now time to get on with playing football.
The idea was, I suppose, that if Arsene Wenger had full faith in Gallas, then the fans should do too. Wenger is a genius and a legend, right? So he couldn’t possibly be supporting a man who wasn’t up to the job. Just like rumours linking Mikael Silvestre to Arsenal would have been laughed out of any Gunner pub a week before the deal was finalised, only to be a brilliant coup when Wenger confirmed he had bought who was below John O’Shea at United in pecking order.
I wonder now if Arsenal fans can trust Wenger’s judgement in the same way as they always have done.
The problem for Arsenal, which should weigh just as heavily on the fans’ minds as losing five of their opening fourteen games, is they haven’t really had many tricky games yet. Whilst Manchester United and Aston Villa have both made trips to the Emirates this season to test them, when it comes to their away games, Arsenal’s toughest fixture has been Fulham, who are currently ninth in the table, and Arsenal lost.
Unlike Manchester United, who have played six of the other nine teams in the top half of the table away from home so far, or Liverpool who have played three, or Chelsea who have played two, Arsenal have only played one other team from the top ten away from home. Whilst not wishing to do a disservice to Fulham, who have had a very good start to the season (particularly when you consider it was only goal difference that saved them from relegation last season), Craven Cottage is hardly a fortress, and if Arsenal can’t get a point there, what can they hope for at the likes of Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Anfield and Villa Park?
Wenger stubbornly refused to dip in to his transfer kitty, wanting to prove that he could turn his talented kids in to a title winning team. The point is though, his talented kids finished third last season, and have since lost Flamini and Hleb, who had left Arsenal to seek silverware on the continent, as well as Gilberto. Alan YSB Hansen was right when he told us we’d never win anything with kids, but Hansen was forgetting that along with our talented kids we had several mature, experienced role models within the team, to guide the youngsters to success. Arsene seems to think he can go one step better than Sir Alex Ferguson, but every season, until he loses his job, he will be proven wrong.
Instead of putting his faith in a player who clearly cares about the club, like Cesc Fabregas, Wenger stuck by Gallas when it was painfully obvious the guy wasn’t up to the job. He will always care far more about himself than any club he represents or captains.
“I scored in the game but the pleasure has been spoiled by the result. It felt like a defeat,” Gallas said after the 4-4 against Tottenham.
In his most recent ourbust, which has finally cost him the captaincy, the same thoughts are echoed. “I am trying to defend myself a bit without giving names,” he said. “Otherwise I’m taking all the blame. It’s very frustrating.”
Less than a month after the incident at Birmingham, Gallas explained exactly what it meant to be Arsenal captain. It was fantastic, not because it was Arsenal, not because of the pride in the shirt, but because of how it made him look. “I won two titles with Chelsea but the Arsenal captain’s armband gave me greater recognition,” he said. “Didier Drogba also says to me: ‘You are the Arsenal captain after Henry, Vieira and Adams. That is not just anything!’ Actually, I have not completely realised that yet.”
Just from these snippets alone it’s painfully obvious that the guy is lacking in the characteristics of a good captain, but Wenger missed it all. Why? Because he genuinely thought Gallas was up to the task? Or because he was too stubborn to go back on his decision of making him captain in the first place? Either way, the faith Wenger kept in Gallas, repeatedly telling the press of the trust he had in the former Chelsea man, only reflects badly on the manager now.
There is the chance for Arsenal to turn the corner now though, with the correct decision in displacing Gallas having been made. Whilst there are no title hopes for this team, they can still battle it out with Aston Villa for their Champions League place. Fabregas has been handed the armband and maybe he can have a positive effect on the team, but more importantly for Arsenal fans, maybe it will be enough to convince him to stay longer than this season, even if this year ends with them empty-handed again.
However, with the fixture list only getting tougher for them, where Arsenal finish this season is entirely unpredictable, as is how long Wenger will keep his job for, with poor judgement on his part costing the team massively.