For a man who has been the keystone of two of English football's most formidable defences, William Gallas talks a lot less tough than he plays. Yet even the mild-mannered Frenchman was prepared to admit yesterday that Arsenal play more attractive football than his former side Chelsea – as if anyone actually needed telling.
Now captain at Arsenal, who play Slavia Prague in the Champions League tonight, Gallas was assiduously careful not to offend his old club – which is remarkable, given the allegations they threw at him last year. But when it came to a question of style and entertainment even Gallas was prepared to squeak that, yes, his table-topping Arsenal team are the best for entertainment value.
The visit of the Czech team – in the group stages, having knocked out Ajax in the qualifiers – is the appetiser for Arsène Wenger's team before Liverpool and Manchester United are served up over the next 11 days. Victory for Arsenal, which would be their third out of three in Group H, would virtually seal qualification and in a less guarded moment Gallas described just how much his team had impressed him this season.
The 30-year-old said that he had jumped out of his seat with the excitement of the Carling Cup win over Newcastle last month. "I think I was like a fan when they had a chance to score and they didn't – I stood up and shouted. I was like a kid," he said. "It is true we play good football. The Carling Cup game showed that our squad is strong and I hope we will win something at the end, because if we don't it will be a shame."
He later tried to find an equivalent moment when he had been that excited while watching Chelsea and after a good think came up with a home game against Barcelona in the Champions League. Despite his efforts the point was well made. Not only is he at a club where the football is better, but there is a lot more stability, too. Had Jose Mourinho's departure affected the Chelsea players? "I think so," was Gallas's reply but, sadly, no more detail.
Gallas was the subject of one of the most bizarre mud-slinging episodes of the Mourinho years – in September last year he was accused by Chelsea of threatening to score an own goal if he was not allowed to leave. It was an issue that was never resolved, although a player who was notoriously sensitive at Chelsea does seem to have been tamed by Wenger.
Wenger is spoilt for choice in the line-up that will face Slavia Prague, although it seems that Theo Walcott's beguiling cameo on Saturday against Bolton will not be enough to secure him a place. However, he is not the biggest casualty of the competition for places, with Jens Lehmann and Gilberto Silva still out of the side. "They are certainly not happy, but their attitude in training is spot on," Wenger said. "That's where you gain more respect. My job is to win the next game, and my players will always behave like professionals."
Wenger turned 58 yesterday, and with so few Englishmen in his squad he does not have to worry about the sporting health of his adopted nation, although it is always interesting to ask him none the less. "Lewis Hamilton lost and the rugby team lost, but it was achievement for both to do what they did," he said. "In France we organised the World Cup but didn't get to the final."
As for the chances of foul play in the decisive Euro 2008 qualifying match between Israel and Russia, Wenger said that international football was "free of corruption". "At the club level, no. Look at the examples in Italy, so you cannot say we are completely free of it. But at international level I never heard it. There's the pride of a whole country involved. Israel know they will not qualify, they will try to do their best. It's a disaster for a country to lose an international."Reuse content