Gallas drinks in the last chance saloon...


“O Captain my Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won…”

Walt Whitman
Quoting poetry is a slightly lofty way to start a football article, I know, but debate on the captaincy of our club deserves a serious tone from the off.
In Xavier Rivoire’s recent AW biography he gives us insight into Wenger’s reasoning behind appointing a captain (The Hild and Frantz mentioned below were Wenger’s mentors as he cut his managerial teeth in France):

“Wenger attempted to strengthen his side where he could surrounding himself with people he knew and trusted. He plucked Jean-Luc Arribart, his old friend from the French university side, from Stade de Reims, with the 29-year-old, a journeyman through the lower leagues throughout his career – duly becoming his eyes out on the pitch. It was an approach Arsene had taken on board from Hild and Frantz, using a player on his wavelength to orchestrate the side on the turf and ensure the machine ran smoothly.”

My Revenge On Ben Foster

Rivoire explains, earlier in the book, Wenger himself had been given this role as a player, and later explains AW did the same thing at AS Monaco and then again at Grampus. When he arrived at Arsenal he came upon a captain who was not only a massive club hero, but also an amazing leader. Wenger could not repeat the same trick (though Wenger’s first signing, Remi Garde, did wear the armband early on when Adams was absent). Adams has commented on how his relationship with Wenger was difficult early on, but when both eventually understood that they wanted Arsenal to succeed more than anything else, they became close and their relationship blossomed. Adams became “his eyes out on the pitch”. A relationship made in heaven. Of course Paddy V and Titi came through the Wenger finishing school they we’re very much on the Wenger wavelength… And then came William.
Last summer there was a sense of shock but also understanding at the appointment of William Gallas as our captain. We all thought Bertie would be handed the armband but Gallas had experience, had won leagues, was a seasoned professional, we maybe didn’t agree 100% but most understood. With the great start we had to the league and the fact we were at the summit of the table, most were clambering (myself included) to say what a good decision AW had made. The defense looked more assured and Gallas himself was showing some of the form that made him a regular for both Chelsea and France. Scoring in the final minute against United, it looked like William was more suited to the role than Titi had been. Had we found the perfect new leader?
Saturday 23rd February 2008 was a decisive day for Arsenal’s season, away at Birmingham, a dramatic game from the first whistle to the last. It began with the sickening injury to our Brazilian-Croat, Eduardo, and ended with two points lost and major doubts over AW’s choice of captain.
We all know, only too well, the way Gallas reacted to what happened that day, what has been kept secret to some degree, was our player’s reaction to the Gallas reaction. What Clichy needed that day was the arm of his captain put around his shoulder, advice from the manager’s on field aid, instead he got a hissy fit, which saw Gallas sat at the other end of the pitch at St. Andrews. Gael later came out and said he didn’t really appreciate the way Willy acted but understood it. Wenger defended his player, in public, saying; “he was frustrated.”
In private, one can assume, there must have been issues within the squad. They we’re trying to get over the horrific sight of a team mate nearly being cut in two, the fact they’d cruelly lost two more vital points and one of their number, their captain, lost his head when they needed him most. In a very young squad, this must have been a difficult time; in my opinion, because of his actions that day, Gallas lost the dressing room. Something that in 15 seasons as captain I doubt ever happened to Tony Adams.

Gallas gave a telling interview a few months back in which he said it was Didier Drogba who made him realize how big an honour it was to captain Arsenal, following on from PV4 and TH14. Did he not already understand this? Did AW not ram this down his throat before giving him the privilege?

At the end of the season Arsene said he would be reconsidering the captaincy, which lead many to think the armband would be handed to our midfield general Cesc or the last remaining Invincible Kolo. The topic had been uncomfortably sidestepped in media interviews until Monday.

 “You know I learned a lot, you want to be the best captain, give good advice to your players, but sometimes you can make mistakes as well so I think this season I know what I’m going to do and I know I am ready to change my way to speak to the players.”

“True leaders are tempered in the fire of battle…” If Gallas and Wenger believe that last season in general, and the events at Birmingham in particular, was in fact that unholy fire then he will again captain our squad. If this isn’t to be a title in name alone, he needs to regain the confidence of the players in the changing room, if this cannot be done William needs to stand up, walk across the dressing room and return the armband to the peg with the Arsenal number 4 shirt hanging from it.
…because it’s been there before.

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