It is the tradition at Arsenal, copied from the Continent, that when teams are announced before kick-off the crowd shout out the surname of each player. A clapometer was never going to be necessary last night to detect the relative popularity of the home side's new captain and his predecessor, but, the decibel difference between "Fab-re-gas" and "Gall-as" was surprisingly small.
As it turned out, supporters would have more important things to worry about before the night was done.
The Emirates crowd are not the most supportive of disaffected players either; earlier in the season Arsène Wenger had to appeal to them not to boo Emmanuel Adebayor, who had spent the whole close-season playing the big tease over a transfer to Barcelona or Milan. They appeared to have settled, however, with some clever prompting from Wenger, for circling the wagons against the wicked media, who had apparently caused all this trouble in the first place. "The media reaction was more damaging than the actual comments William made," Le Professeur wrote sternly in the match programme. "No matter what he said, it was turned against him."
Fabregas, writing the captain's notes for the first time, dutifully echoed the same theme: "As for William, I have a lot of respect for him. A lot of people from outside have been very unfair with him because he is a great guy." Fabregas also pointed out that he had regularly led Barcelona teams from the age of 11 and tossed the coin for the Spanish Under-17s as well; he had even technically been captain of Arsenal "for about two minutes" in the Carling Cup final last year. "I'm not a big shouter," he admitted. "I will try to lead by example."
As senior man in the usual fresh-faced midfield, the 21-year-old did so with mixed success in a patchy Arsenal performance. He linked well with Robin van Persie – widely assumed to be the player Gallas was complaining about – as well as taking it upon himself to have a word with the Luxembourg referee after the Dutchman received a yellow card for a lunging tackle.
But whoever was offering the verbal encouragement, the crowd had little to shout about and grew increasingly uneasy as Dynamo defended solidly and counter-attacked with a speed that had Fabregas as concerned with tracking back as pushing on.
Gallas found the Guinea striker Ismaël Bangoura a handful and almost gave a goal away to him in something less than warrior-fashion.
Having made a present of the ball while unwisely trying to shepherd it infield, Gallas was fortunate to see it strike the outside of a post. He was left shaking his head in rueful fashion again after inadvertently getting in the way of a Van Persie shot.
"His body language is as if he's been a naughty boy and doesn't want to do anything wrong," said the veteran Arsenal observer Bob Wilson. Not the Messiah, then, just a naughty boy, though the Life of William would have cast him as Arsenal's saviour had a referee's assistant not spotted that he was offside before jabbing into the net following a corner just before half-time.
Instead he was grateful to Manuel Almunia for denying the tall midfielder Artem Milevskiy, who had burst between Gallas and Mikaël Silvestre; and also to his new captain for leading from the front with his magnificent long free-kick – albeit from a moving ball – for Nicklas Bendtner, whose goal in the 87th minute ensured qualification for the ninth successive season under the supposedly beleaguered Wenger.Reuse content