Gallas the real leader at Arsenal says Almunia

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The Independent Football

Manuel Almunia believes William Gallas is still the real leader of Arsenal despite having been stripped of the captaincy.

Almunia is currently in possession of the armband after Cesc Fabregas picked up a long-term injury.

Yet he insists the inspiration still comes from Gallas and cites the manner in which Arsenal players celebrated Gallas' winning goal against Portsmouth as evidence that there are no lingering problems over the French defender's controversial autobiography in which he questioned his team-mates' bravery and accused one Arsenal player of disrupting morale.

Almunia said: "William is a very good professional. When he was captain he would fight for the team, in every aspect.

"He is a real winner and has a strong character. But we are on William's side - everyone supports him. I have a very good relationship with him and I was very happy for him to score.

"He has shown that he is an unbelievable professional. He is a player with more trophies than anyone else in the team - everyone has to respect that.

"He knows how to get success. Even though he is not the captain we follow him. I play with so much confidence when William is playing in front of me. He has won the World Cup and I have so much respect for him."

Wenger has confirmed he does not want to sell in the January transfer window so at 31 Gallas could have a crucial role in the Gunners' quest to get back into the title race.

Arsenal trail league leaders Liverpool by 10 points and long-term injuries to players such as Theo Walcott, Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky have disrupted their season.

Yet Almunia believes it is the steely identity which saw Arsenal win so many trophies with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry which is still missing.

Almunia said: "We have shown good character, but we still have a little more to go to find the real Arsenal.

"The main thing is to look for our identity, our way, our character that gave this club all their titles and trophies.

"For whatever reason we lost our way, our character and the way we play on the pitch. We need to re-find our spirit and our desire to win games."

The form of Gallas could be key, especially now he seems to be rediscovering his love for the club without the stripes of responsibility.

Almunia added: "Maybe he lost some energy when he was captain. He took responsibility for the pressure felt by all the players. William took too many responsibilities and tried to be the main player on the pitch.

"I think he is playing better than before. I spoke to him last week and he told me that now he is playing better because he is not losing too much energy because he is not worried about other things and other players or other circumstances off the pitch."