Arsenal's third season without a trophy appeared to leave the club divided about its future direction yesterday, with the captain, William Gallas, dissenting from his manager, Arsène Wenger, by insisting results – and not the style of play – were what mattered.
"For me the most important thing is to win – not playing well and still losing," Gallas said. "For me, for everyone, for the fans, the most important thing is to win something."
Wenger said in the aftermath of the 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford, which leaves Manchester United two wins away from the title, that his current side, whose style of football has been a credit to the Premier League, were "good enough" for next season.
But Gallas insisted trophies were more important than a reputation for flair. "I'm a competitor and I want to win everything," he said. "You only remember the people who win some trophies. For the players and for the fans I think it's very important to get some cups."
How long some of Wenger's players are prepared to wait for success remains to be seen. Cesc Fabregas is not as contented with his current package at Arsenal as many seem to assume he is, with a salary relative to status which is considerably less than the six-figure a week sums commanded by the Rooneys and Ronaldos. Another trophy-less season may make this harder to bear.
Wenger could also badly do with an end to the uncertainty surrounding the future of Mathieu Flamini – his season's revelation – whose contract talks are at an impasse, with Juventus reportedly in the wings.
There is also no sign of Alexander Hleb's contract, which expires in 2010, being renewed and the sight of him emerging from the Arsenal team's hotel in Milan before the Champions League second leg six weeks ago, with agent Claudio Vigorelli – an associate of leading international agent Vincenzo Morabito – did little to settle the club's nerves. Neither did Morabito's claim, in denying that Milan had been trying to approach Hleb, that the two were heading off "for an ice cream".
Emmanuel Adebayor, like Gallas, also suggested yesterday that a change of philosophy might be necessary now. "Next season we have to come out like a killer to do something," he said – language which certainly does not describe the often overintricate build-up which has made Arsenal a less effective attacking force in recent months, or their approach against physical lower-table sides, whom Arsenal have struggled to beat.
Gallas believes Arsenal have progressed since their fourth place last season – and losing third place to Liverpool seems improbable with a seemingly sedentary run-in which includes encounters with Reading, Sunderland and Derby. But the events of the past few months seem to have lowered the sights he is setting. "Maybe I will change what I say: instead of saying I want to win everything I will say, 'We will see'," said Gallas.
Ironically, Arsenal's title chance disappeared on an afternoon when Manchester United were well short of their best. "In the first half and second half before they equalised, we played some good football, everyone wanted to give the maximum for the club," Gallas said. "United were a bit afraid because they were so wanting to win. After they equalised we were a little bit down and they took the confidence."
The lengthy absences of Tomas Rosicky, Eduardo da Silva and Robin van Persie exposed the lack of depth in Wenger's squad. The pressure this put on Fabregas was revealed by the contrast between his last two displays and that sublime performance at Anfield on 28 October, from which Liverpool were lucky to take a point.
Fabregas's drift underlines a need for reinforcements and, despite Wenger's legendary reluctance to spend big, the names of the Lyons winger Hatem Ben Arfa and Villarreal defender Martin Caceres keep cropping up, as well as the highly rated Mexican Carlos Vela, 19, will be back at the Emirates after his impressive loan spell at Osasuna.
Though Jens Lehmann, Gilberto and possibly Philippe Senderos seem destined to go, Wenger suggested that he would stick with the personnel he has – a conclusion destined to raise eyebrows among some senior players, despite the three League titles and four FA Cups Wenger has delivered to his club.
"The main target is to keep the team together because we are absolutely amazing," Wenger said. "I feel the difference between being champion and winning the Champions League is very close. I am very proud of my team and I believe we have to continue next season what we are doing. The trophies will come."
Wenger seems convinced luck had the biggest hand to play. "Back in the last two months, even with decisions again on Sunday, we are not very happy and very unlucky," he said. "You got a clear message since March. We got it. We are not stupid in the dressing room. We got it very well. For the rest, everyone is free now to think what they want."
There could hardly have been a greater contrast with the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, now contemplating the much-needed return of his centre-back Nemanja Vidic for Saturday's visit to Blackburn. With a side who have taken 22 points from a possible 24, Ferguson said: "I am not counting my chickens. I know what football can do to you. My team is keen to do well and the players are showing great consistency. We never give up [and] that's the kind of spirit we'll need."Reuse content