LONDON // William Gallas endured a mixed return yesterday to the Arsenal team after being sacked as captain and dropped at the weekend. With the young Spaniard Cesc Fabregas as the new owner of the skipper's armband, Arsenal beat Dynamo Kiev 1-0 to edge into the last 16 of the Champions League with a late goal from Nicklas Bendtner, but all eyes were on Gallas. The Frenchman, 31, stripped of the captaincy after criticising the team in the media last week, was given a friendly reception from the fans but twice came close to becoming the villain of the piece.
Despite an erratic display, the team manager Arsene Wenger said he was pleased to have Gallas back to shore up an injury-hit side. "I believe his focus was great," Wenger told reporters after the victory that kept Arsenal top of Group G. "He wanted to do well and you could see he was completely committed in the game. Overall, I feel he did well. "The crowd responded well," he added. "Somewhere, they acknowledge that he was a committed captain and I was very happy that the crowd reacted in this way to him."
With nine first-team players injured, Wenger had few options other than to recall Gallas after the 3-0 drubbing the Gunners suffered at Manchester City on Saturday. In his programme notes, Wenger said the fact that Gallas was no longer captain would help him become a better player. "It's not easy when you are singled out no matter what you do and I'm confident he will be an even bigger asset now," Wenger said. "It's a weight off him."
However, Gallas gave his manager some anxious moments. Seven minutes before halftime he lost concentration, allowing Ismael Bangoura to rob him of the ball and curl a shot against the post. In the second half he then prevented his team mate Robin van Persie giving Arsenal the lead when he inadvertently blocked the Dutchman's goalbound shot with his leg. He almost marked his recall with a goal as well, flicking the ball into the net just before halftime but he was ruled to be offside.
Gallas was keeping his thoughts to himself after the game but Fabregas picked him out for praise. "Tonight we showed that we are united," he told Sky Sports. "William has been great for us and I can learn a lot from him." *Reuters