MANCHESTER // Arsene Wenger might not be too keen to talk about William Gallas, but the defender is still very much the central figure as the Arsenal crisis deepens. The coach admits it is a difficult time for the club, but he refuses to be embroiled in a debate about the future of the man who was his captain until Saturday's defeat at Manchester City and who has been open in his criticism of his teammates.
After a 3-0 thumping and a defensive display that was pitiful at times, Wenger says Gallas is still in his plans and even hinted at a recall for tomorrow's Champions League tie with Dynamo Kiev. "I will have Cesc Fabregas available [after suspension] and maybe Gallas," he revealed. If he returns, it will be a surprise, with Gallas widely expected to be sold in January after accusing his teammates of "lacking courage".
Following the capitulation at City, many will say he had a point about the lack of fight among the Arsenal players and was right to speak his mind. Others will argue things like this should be kept within the dressing room. The City boss Mark Hughes shares this opinion and recently fined Elano for expressing his dismay at being out of the side. But he has not forgotten the rants that took place during his playing days at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, which often galvanised the team.
"The break was for 15 minutes and for 10 of them we were shouting and bawling at each other," said Hughes. "It didn't do any harm back then, but it's a different era and a different make up of personnel in dressing rooms these days. People take criticism in a different way. "It's a different mindset some people have now. I don't think that sort of thing is as prevalent as it used to be. Invariably after games, when we do talk to other managers, we do ask, 'how quiet is your dressing room?'.
"They all agree they are a lot quieter than when we were playing. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, that's open to debate. These comments can be viewed in negative or positive way. But, if at all possible, you have to keep them in the dressing room." Wenger needs to sort out the Gallas issue quickly to prevent Arsenal's season going completely off the rails. The Premier League title may now be out of reach, but they should not be ruled out of other competitions.
Wenger added: "We have difficult times, but have always been strong enough to deal with it. "I believe the environment inside the club keeps confidence very high. The most important thing is to keep united, focused and not to panic." With Hughes and City also under pressure after a poor recent run, it was a good job Robinho was on hand to brighten the mood at Eastlands. Maybe he was shaking off jet leg in the first half following his long trip back from Brazil for their friendly win over Portugal, as he was irresistible in the second.
His sublime chip over Manuel Almunia for his ninth goal of the season was world class. firstname.lastname@example.org