French coach Arsène Wenger has appointed spanihs star Cesc Fábregas as his permanent Arsenal captain but will welcome the deposed leader, William Gallas, back to his line-up against Dynamo Kiev tonight, confident that the centre-half remains fully committed to the club and will become "stronger as a player" now that he is back among the ranks.
Indeed, Gallas trained with his team-mates, whose spirit and bravery he had questioned publicly last week both in an interview conducted in France and in his autobiography, at London Colney yesterday ahead of a recall for the Champions League group game against the Ukrainians.
We must say that his recall comes after he was dropped from the squad on disciplinary grounds for the weekend defeat at Manchester City. Wenger insisted this was "a new start" for the 31-year-old, but will also hope that Fábregas' appointment will help deflect longstanding interest from Barcelona in re-signing the Spanish midfielder at the end of the season.
The Arsenal boss has attempted to draw a line under a demoralising week at the club, with successive Premier League defeats having left them 10 points adrift of the leaders and Gallas' outburst adding to the sense of chaos. Asked whether he regretted retaining his compatriot as captain in the summer, particularly after his infamous show of petulance at Birmingham City in February, Wenger replied: "I really don't know. I feel the media was out for Gallas and it became increasingly difficult. This season, at the moment, the results are not as good as we expected and the pressure on him was always bigger.
"I must say that William is a player I rate and a man I rate as well. I have a big respect for him and I like him personally. He was working as a captain under big pressure and, at some stage, you do not want this high pressure to affect him or the team.
"He is a player who is committed to the club. He can be stronger as a player. In fact, he took to heart all the problems of the team, so this can be a new start for him and he can be stronger as a player. I believe his team-mates are behind him. He's a fantastic player and I just felt the pressure on him was big and not justified."
Fábregas will relish that pressure, claiming his appointment was "a great honour", with Wenger insistent the 21-year-old boasts "all the qualities of a leader". Yet, while the Spain international attempts to revive Arsenal's season, Gallas must seek to regain the faith of his team-mates.
The Frenchman has not formally apologised to the team for his criticisms - particularly of Robin van Persie - but is understood to regret the disruption his outburst caused. The centre-back jogged with his club-mates in their warm-up yesterday, exchanging the occasional word with Alex Song. "We all respect him," said Gaël Clichy. "He's been sensational for us in the last few years." Yet it remains to be seen how the crowd at the Emirates Stadium receive the centre-half this evening.
Indeed, a victory against Dynamo Kiev, against whom Gallas scored a late equaliser in Ukraine in the opening fixture in Group G, would secure passage into the knockout phase and go some way towards replenishing confidence ahead of Sunday's daunting trip to Chelsea. The manager, who has lost Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby to swell his ranks of walking wounded to nine first-choice players, described the past week as having been "interesting, not more than that" but insisted his squad's spirit had not been wrecked by cliques or the disaffection exposed by their former captain.
"The frustration kicks in when the team don't win and, frankly, I'm not happy when we don't win games," said Wenger. "We are very frustrated and very disappointed, but I don't feel morale is a basic problem in our team. You have to consider the big picture. This team has pushed into the 21st century with a training ground, a stadium and a very young, promising team. We are in a very healthy financial situation contrary to many teams we fight against every week. We are in a global situation which is very, very positive.
"We know, that in terms of points, the situation is not ideal. The most important thing is to win against Kiev, but we go towards a world where our healthy financial situation, a new team and our new stadium will be much more important than anything else. People don't realise that at the moment. They still live in dreamland and are spending more money, but you don't know what kind of world we'll be facing in the next 12 or 16 months. These days you go from catastrophe to fantastic, but real life is in between. It is not all doom and gloom" he concluded.