Cole-Gallas deal a triumph for Wenger acumen

Long saga brought to close - and Arsenal may prove long-term winners
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And so, at last, it ended, albeit after the final curtain. Chelsea had their star man and the supporting cast achieved personal objectives. Ashley Cole signed for Chelsea and William Gallas departed Stamford Bridge.

Thus, what began as a flagrant example of daylight tap-dancing in a London hotel 20 months ago finished 10 minutes after the closure of football's transfer window in an act of late-night melodrama. Only The Mousetrap has lulled more audiences to sleep over a longer period.

That Arsenal, on the pitch at least, have come out on top by receiving a fee of £5 million, as well as a French World Cup finalist, in exchange for a one-footed, one position-only specialist, albeit a world-class one, can be confirmed only if they end Chelsea's run as champions.

The arrival of Julio Baptista, in a loan-deal swap for another awkward asset, the Spaniard Jose Antonio Reyes, also confirmed the acumen that Arsène Wenger applied last week. He may have lost two talented left-footed players, but he has improved his squad and prospects for honours. Gallas is one of the world's best defenders and also scores critical goals. He will give the Arsenal defence authority, while Baptista, 24, the Brazilian forward-cum- midfielder, who joined from Real Madrid, will add power and thrust to a team who are pretty on the eye but reluctant to eschew beauty for the beast when goals are required.

In Gaël Clichy he has a natural replacement for Cole, but he can also, of course, pick Justin Hoyte. Or do as he did last season and use Mathieu Flamini as an auxiliary defender, a task he performed so well that Cole was barely missed. The addition of Brazil's outstanding young midfielder Denilson, 18, from Sao Paulo, was another smart move.

Chelsea, having lost Gallas and also Robert Huth, the German defender who joined the Gareth Southgate revolution at Middles-brough on deadline day, look weaker in defence. Rumours of management rifts, strenuously denied, would ensure any Agatha Christie sleuth sniffed something interesting afoot. Gallas, a rock, will be missed if injuries bite; a point, it must be presumed, Jose Mour-inho made to Peter Kenyon before the saga ended.

Gallas, it is true, irked Mourinho by declining to join Chelsea in the United States and faced being cast among the understudies, but his experience, quality and versatility are beyond argument. At 29, however, with one year remaining on his contract, his commercial value had diminished while Cole, 25, with two years left, was still regarded as a pawn of considerable worth. Chelsea opened the original bidding at £20m.

"The fact that I spend nearly every press conference talking about players who do not play tells you a lot," said Wenger recently. "What is important is the players on the pitch - those who play and make the club successful."

It was an insight into his priorities. Chelsea may have acquired Cole more cheaply than expected and stolen a march financially, but Arsenal have a package of on-the-pitch potential.

"It was a big day and obviously it dragged on for a long time," said Wenger. "It's good to have everybody focused on the main target, which is to play good football and respond to the ambitions of Arsenal Football Club. The positive thing is that it is finally over."

Wenger described Gallas as "an accomplished and versatile defender who can perform anywhere across the back line" and added that he is "an admirer of his pace and strength. We hope that he helps us achieve our objectives on the pitch in the coming season - and beyond."

As to the second deal, he said: "Reyes brought a lot but he wanted to go. Baptista will bring power in the air and score goals. I can use him either up front or as a hanging attacking midfielder. We'll see how the swap works, but I'm confident it will work well because Baptista is quick, strong and a team player."

The deal may prove costly for Reyes. According to Atletico Madrid, Reyes owes them €2m (£1.3m) in compensation because he has joined Real Madrid instead of them, having signed a pre-contractual agreement.

If so, it would hardly be surprising. After all, the Cole-to-Chelsea saga resulted in fines totalling more than £500,000 before it was resolved... and we slept through that.

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