Apology may decide if Gallas is back for Kiev

Manchester City 3 Arsenal 0
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The Independent Online

The most instructive part of Arsène Wenger's account was the aside he threw out as he walked away towards the desolation of the team bus. "Fabregas, perhaps Gallas," he responded, when invited to say who might be restored to Arsenal's depleted and devastated side for tomorrow's Champions league encounter with Dynamo Kiev.

A malign force William Gallas might be – and a player now agitating, by one interpretation of last week's outburst, for a move back to France – but he happens to be Wenger's best defender by a distance and his absence during Arsenal's awful capitulation to Manchester City – their worst defeat in the league since a 4-1 defeat at Liverpool 20 months ago – screamed as much at the Arsenal manager.

Gallas's words might have been ringing in his ears too, as Robin van Persie meekly surrendered the possession which handed Manchester City the match defining second goal and as Arsenal, with Cesc Fabregas suspended, lacked any hint of the leadership needed to drive the team on.

When Roy Keane said what he thought of Manchester United in the infamous interview that MUTV never broadcast, Sir Alex Ferguson had enough resources to flick him into the past. Wenger has nothing such, as he scours the landscape of young individuals he has gathered. He needed Aaron Ramsey, 32 days short of his 18th birthday, to offer offensive options, leaving Arsenal's fans to question why it took an hour to send him on from a bench which, reserve keeper Lukasz Fabianski aside, was occupied by teenagers alone.

Compare the weight of responsibility on Ramsey's shoulders on Saturday with the plans Ferguson issued on Friday for the immediate future of his striker Daniel Welbeck, 18 on Wednesday and 30 days older than Ramsey: "He can go and enjoy himself playing for the youth team, or the reserves, if he chooses the reserves."

Wenger said he isn't destroying the youthful confidence of his players. "What is important is that the environment inside the club keeps the confidence high and that's where we have our job to do," he said. "When you play football you can always lose anything. We have not to panic, just to focus and keep going at the moment. That is difficult, I don't deny that. But there's no need to be desperate as well."

But some sense of control would help. Wenger sounded delusional when he said he didn't "believe too much in leadership" and his steadfast refusal to discuss Gallas's outburst at the weekend was nothing like Mark Hughes's response when, even as he embarked on his difficult trip to meet Manchester City's owners in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, Elano bleated about a lack of first-team action.

The Brazilian has subsequently become a curious folk hero at Eastlands, kissing his badge as he trotted up the touchline to a noisy reception on Saturday. But the bench is where he is likely to stay and he is expected to be gone in January.

Hughes learned the Alex Ferguson way, of course. Reflecting on the 1993/94 United team which was full of big personalities, Hughes remembered on Saturday night how "the break was 15 minutes and for 10 of them we'd shout and bawl at each other".

Hughes believes "there's a different make-up of personnel in dressing rooms these days but you have to keep it inside. It can be detrimental if things that need to be said aren't said to the people involved and instead it's broadcast wider to people who should not have any knowledge." He was speaking from a position of comfort after watching his side build on an insipid first half to cut Arsenal's defence apart.

Key was the first-half, injury-time defensive mix-up which said everything about the enfeebled visitors as Gael Clichy clipped a ball into Stephen Ireland's path for the opener. Robinho – "one of those few in world football who get people out of their seats" as Hughes later described him – could have had two goals more than his breathtaking chip, laid on by Shaun Wright-Phillips after stealing the ball from Van Persie. And it was a sign of what the young can do when unfettered that Daniel Sturridge won the late penalty he converted.

A telling gap in Wenger's vocabulary revealed itself in the inquisition which followed. "Ducking?" he asked, which seemed to be a genuine response, rather than Wenger ducking a question about him ducking the issues. "The supporters know what's happening. Don't worry, we have our own internet, we can speak freely to our supporters," he insisted.

But as of last night, there was no explanations on Arsenal's website from a club who must now win every one of their remaining matches to hit Felipe Scolari's title-winning target of 95 points.

"It was a flattering victory for them," said Wenger. Hughes justifiably called him "ungracious".

Goals: Ireland, 45 (1-0), Robinho, 56 (2-0), Sturridge, pen 90 (3-0)

Manchester City (4-1-3-2) Hart; Zabaleto, Dunne, Richards, Garrido; Kompany; Vassell (Elano, 72), Ireland, Wright Phillips; Robinho (Hamann, 80), Benjani (Sturridge, 87). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Ben Haim, Onuoha, Evans.

Arsenal (4-4-2) Almunia; Hoyte (Ramsey, 59), Djourou, Silvestre, Clichy; Diaby (Vela, 69), Denilson, Song, Nasri; Van Persie, Bendtner. Substitutes not used: Wilshere, Fabianski (gk), Gibbs, Lansbury, Simpson

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire)

Booked: Arsenal: Song

Man of the Match: Stephen Ireland.

Attendance: 44,878

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