Wenger calls in Fabregas to halt crisis

Spaniard replaces errant Gallas as captain and both face Dynamo Kiev tonight
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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger attempted to halt the crisis that is engulfing Arsenal's season by yesterday naming Cesc Fabregas as the club's new captain, permanently replacing William Gallas who was stripped of the honour after his outspoken criticism of his team-mates.

Gallas, along with Fabregas, will start this evening's Champions League tie at home to Dynamo Kiev – after being told not to travel for last Saturday's league game away to Manchester City – but sources close to the 31-year-old defender said last night that he was disillusioned and considering asking for a transfer.

Wenger is aware of Gallas's discontent but had to weigh up the damage caused to his young team, in what is turning into an extremely taxing campaign, against the risk of losing the French international.

Although Gallas has shown some contrition for his attack on team-mates such as Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri, and more so for the storm it has caused, he has not yet offered a formal apology to the squad.

"He [Gallas] will play against Kiev," Wenger said in announcing his decision after training yesterday with Gallas taking a full part in the session, although Nasri (knee) and Abou Diaby (abdominal strain) have joined the ranks of Arsenal's injured.

"Fabregas will captain the team. I don't think I have to explain why. I give you the information. It is a permanent thing."

When Wenger did, eventually, offer an explanation, his take was simply to blame the media for hounding Gallas out of office as if he were an errant government minister.

"The media was out for Gallas and it became increasingly difficult," Wenger said, presumably in reference to the calls for the defender to be replaced ever since his sit-down protest at Birmingham City last season.

"This season at the moment the results are not as good as expected and the pressure on him was always bigger," the manager added, saying that the pressure was not "justified" – which begs the question as to why Wenger gave in to it. He was in a very different media environment, under big pressure from the press and, at some stage, you do not want this high pressure to affect him or the team," Wenger then said. "But, for the man and for the player, I have big respect."

Although Wenger has reacted swiftly to the situation, it was clearly uncomfortable for him to have to speak publicly about the internal goings-on at Arsenal. He quickly moved to draw a line under the discussion, even saying that "you have to respect the privacy of the team" while defending his decision to appoint Gallas as captain in the first place.

Wenger brushed aside suggestions Gallas may seek a move in the January transfer window although, if that does not happen, the likelihood is he will leave next summer.

"He is a player who is committed to the club," Wenger said. "He can be stronger as a player. He took to heart all the problems of the team. This can be a new start for him and he can be stronger as a player. We have to close this subject now."

Even though Fabregas is just 21 – the same age as when Tony Adams was awarded the armband – the choice of him as captain will be welcomed by Arsenal's squad and supporters.

"I believe that, personally, for me the captain is the voice of the club towards the outside," Wenger said of the Spanish international.

"Of course, he's one of the leaders of the team. He has the experience and the confidence of the rest of the team." That last quality may have been a telling admission, given the concern over Gallas.

Wenger also reacted forcefully to talk up the prospects for his young squad, who go into tonight's tie knowing they can secure their passage from Group G. "Despite all the attempts around the club to break them, it will not happen," he said. "This team and this club can be one of the important forces in Europe for many years and more.

"We have to convince, first, people in England and the only way to do that is not to talk too much, to go out and play well. I think it will be a new era."

Part of that will be the strength to ride out the current financial storm. "The most important thing is to win tomorrow and the next game but we go towards a world where our healthy financial situation is there – with a new team living in a new stadium – and will be much more important than anything else," Wenger said. "People don't realise that at the moment. They still live in dreamland and are spending more money but you don't know what kind of world we are facing in the next 12 or 16 months," he added.

Wenger has drafted Fran Merida and Jay Simpson into his squad for tonight's game.

Arsenal (4-5-1, probable): Almunia; Djourou, Gallas, Silvestre, Clichy; Denilson, Fabregas, Ramsey, Song, Van Persie; Bendtner.

Dynamo Kiev (4-5-1, probable): Bogush; El Kaddouri, Diakhate, Dopilka, Betao; Asatiani, Vukojevic, Sabljic, Aliyev, Eremenko; Milevsky.

Referee: A Hamer (Luxembourg).