Arsene Wenger yesterday cast fresh doubt over the future of William Gallas by claiming the Arsenal defender had lost the "happiness to play" football.
Despite Wenger's previous insistence that Gallas will stay at the Emirates, after being stripped of the captaincy following his public outburst at some of the club's younger players, it is understood that the France international is still smarting and would prefer to leave, hoping to secure a move to Italy.
At the same time Wenger, who also wants to keep Gallas, has renewed his attempt to sign an experienced central defender, a move that floundered in the summer, and has been urged by the club's board to spend in next month's transfer window.
Wenger said that Gallas was "isolated" from the rest of the squad following his controversial interview and admitted that taking the captaincy from the 31-year-old was the hardest management decision he has had to take in his career.
"You have to understand that we are a very popular and ultra-sensitive club," Wenger said. "On a human level, what happened with William was the toughest thing I had to deal with in my career because I regard him with a lot of esteem," he said. "He was stuck into a media frenzy, a witch-hunt that isolated him so much that it was becoming a handicap for the team. He has recovered the balance regarding his football. But I'm not convinced that, in his head, he has recovered his balance and the happiness to play."
Serie A leaders Internazionale, meanwhile, have expressed some interest in signing the striker Nicklas Bendtner. It is believed that Jose Mourinho's side are set to lose Adriano next month. The 18-year-old defender Gavin Hoyte has signed a new long-term contract with Arsenal.
* Eduardo da Silva came through an incident-free 45 minutes for Arsenal's reserves in front of Wenger last night, making his manager's trip to a wintry Underhill for the match against Portsmouth a warming one. The Croatian's pace has not deserted him during his difficult lay-off and by the end of the half there was a purpose and hunger to his movement. Eduardo was, as expected, replaced at half-time by Amaury Bischoff but, along with his manager, he will be encouraged by his first public workout. His dynamism in the penalty area could provide Arsenal with the predatory instincts required to relaunch their title challenge. Mark Randall and Kieran Gibbs scored with well-taken, first-time strikes in the 79th and 91st minute respectively as Arsenal won 2-0.
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