Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday November 29 2007
All I can say is, unsurprisingly given Arsenal's current form, this month's player of the month was another close one. Having given this some thought, my shortlist was narrowed down to three French defenders. Bacary Sagna continues to impress with ultra consistent displays, his role in Fabregas' equaliser against United is oft overlooked. He has been fantastic all season long and I was tempted to give him commendation for that. Likewise, Gael Clichy continues to go from strength and came very close to obtaining this prestigious award. Both of the aforementioned have been in the running in just about every one of my player of the months so far this season.
However, I fear for once the voters on Arsenal.com might just agree that the contribution of William Gallas supersedes all others. Never one for mumbling mealy mouth platitudes, Billy took a while to win over Arsenal fans. Many times on these pages I've voiced my disbelief that supporters fond of highlighting the team's inadequacies find it so unpalatable when a player highlights those same hubris's. Perhaps we had grown too used to the more media suave Henry, we found his flattery irresistible and vice versa. This kind of mutual admiration society was clearly becoming unhealthy and Billy the ex-Blue has turned the air blue, and in doing so has cleared it wonderfully. Just as a dog usually ends up imitating its owner, so a team is embodied by the virtues of its captain. Take Patrcik Vieira, strong and determined but gracile at the same time, given to occasional acts of indiscipline, but all in all a footballing powerhouse. Tony Adams, not pretty to look at but tough as old boots and a defensive acumen unmatched in the modern game. Thierry Henry's tenure as captain personnified his troops, occasional moments of breathtaking genius punctuated by plenty of Gaellic shruggging and a tendency to go missing in away games.
Gallas has bought a steeliness and iron resolve to Arsenal that has been curiously absent in the last two years. Injury and loss of form blighted Gallas' maiden campaign in North London, but the manager saw in him a will to win and a quality that his team desperately needed. In turn, by giving this to the team, Gallas has seen his form from his Chelsea days gloriously return. This has been a wonderfully reciprical relationship. At the back end of last season Gallas made comments in the press which were, not surprisingly, largely overlooked, 'I don't like zonal marking, it's o.k when you have big players like Vieira and Keown, but we don't have these players anymore. I will sort this out, I will take responsibility.' Willy has made good on his promise and is the undoubted organiser of the backline alongside Kolo Toure. His absence in Seville was never more keenly felt than when an Alves free kick was nodded home by Luis Fabiano. A lot have said that the captaincy has cooled Gallas' outpsoken tendencies, but I do not agree. If things go awry again, expect Gallas to be the first to acknowledge it and demand more. I don't care if this upsets people and I suspect neither does he, he'll be more than welcome to bend a few ears in my book.
Gallas' month began in fine style, forraging forward with a crucial injury time equaliser against Manchester United. At the final whistle he was seen to mouth to Fabregas, 'never give up! never give up!' His post match interview was marked by a beautiful mellodrama, 'I told the players if we die, we die on the pitch together.' It had that wonderful Rocky IV quality to it. Gallas was the sole older head in a dour draw in Praha and was not unduly troubled in a storming 3-1 win at Reading. The true sign that his stock had indeed grown arrived last weekend against Wigan. With Arsenal struggling to break down a resolute Wigan side, Gallas bowled forward with eight minutes remaining to give the Gunners' a vital lead with a sumptuous diving header. Like the accompanying celebration, it was a goal of desire and commitment, Willy ran to the North Stand pointing steadfastly at the armband. It was the consummate captain's contribution. Having spent all summer defending the decision to make Gallas captain, and housing an ego the size of the River Nile, I am sorely tempted to dish out some 'I told you so's.' However, under the current administration, writing for an Arsenal website under the tenure of Arsene Wenger is a really rather easy pass time. When the man makes a decision, however controversial, say you agree with it and 99 times out of 100 you'll be vindicated. So instead of hanging desperately to the coat tails of other men's genius and industry, I will simply say don't take a walk Billy, keep being a hero.LD.
Date:Thursday November 29 2007
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