Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted last week that he is unsure if William Gallas was talking with other clubs amidst reports that the 32 year old met with Roma officials last week. Gallas, who is currently on the sidelines with a calf strain, is out of contract in June, and with less than 6 months remaining on his current deal with Arsenal, is free to talk to other clubs. Wenger admitted to the Daily Mail, “William is free to speak to other clubs but this information is difficult to check as to whether or not it’s true.”
The question is, whilst the former Arsenal captain has had an excellent season in North London, is Wenger right to stick to his principles apropos contract extensions for players over 30? To recruit a player of Gallas’ quality would cost millions in transfer fees and wages, and so arguably it would be cheaper and more beneficial to the team if Gallas was given the contract he wanted. However, Wenger could take the opportunity to revamp Arsenal’s defence, with a younger, less injury prone player this summer. With Arsenal lacking depth in defence, the question is by no means paltry.
Wenger is keen to depart with tradition and offer Gallas a two year extension to his current contract. The stumbling block however, appears to be over wages. It is believed Wenger wants Gallas to accept a significantly lower weekly wage with a sizeable signing-on-fee, in exchange for a longer deal. Gallas meanwhile hopes to secure a two year deal at his current wage, which is believed to be £80,000 per week. Therefore, a two year deal would cost Arsenal over £8m for two years. With Arsenal’s financial constraints well documented, many believe Arsene should relent to Gallas’ wish and give him the £8m contract. To replace Gallas would cost the club over £8m in a transfer fee, and this is before wages are taken into account. With many Arsenal supporters desperate for the club to sign a centre forward or holding midfield player, Wenger could struggle to finance a deal for a top quality centre half, leaving Arsenal significantly weaker in defence next season.
In the past, a criticism that could be levelled at Wenger, and is arguably applicable here, is that Wenger has got it wrong with certain players. Both Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini were not properly replaced after their contracts expired, leaving Arsenal lacking a defensive screen in midfield. Whilst Alex Song is now emerging as a quality holding midfield player, Arsene’s reluctance to secure the services of Flamini and Silva could be viewed as an error. Even if supporters argue that Flamini has achieved little at Milan, and barely makes the starting eleven, Silva is still playing for Brazil today, and could have been doing that job for Arsenal whilst Song came through the ranks.
As wrong as Wenger may have been about regarding Silva, the Frenchman did time Vieira and Henry’s departure to perfection. Further, whilst Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen make a formidable partnership at the back for Arsenal, the pairing is not without its critics. Certain sections of the Arsenal faithful are concerned with their lack of height, and would prefer Wenger to sign a dominating centre half in the Sol Campbell mould. For example, this season Vermaelen and Gallas struggled against both Didier Drogba and (dare I say it) Emmanuel Adebayor, two tall and powerful players. A more commanding presence in the Arsenal rearguard could therefore add an extra dimension, offensively as well as defensively, to Arsenal’s game.
There is no doubt that if Gallas and Arsenal were to come to an agreement, Gallas could continue at his current level for at least another season. However, Gallas has missed a few weeks this term with a calf strain, whilst at the back end of last season, Gallas missed the run-in with a knee injury. With this in mind, perhaps Wenger would be right to maintain his stance towards contract extensions, as the club must ask itself whether Gallas would be worth £80,000 a week if he continues to pick up these niggling injuries, even if he performs well when fit.
Arsene Wenger could also place his faith next season in Johan Djourou, who is set to return from a knee injury this season. The Switzerland international is highly rated at Arsenal, and may yet prove to be the answer if Gallas and Arsenal do not reach an agreement.
It will be interesting to see how far Wenger is willing to go to secure Gallas for another two seasons. On the one hand, Wenger clearly wants Gallas to stay, but has been stubborn over wage demands in the past. Likewise, Gallas would probably favour a new deal with Arsenal, but has a great sense of self worth (as he displayed at Chelsea) and with Roma circling, could find the Italian club’s advances too hard to refuse. With Mikel Silvestre and Sol Campbell expected to leave at the end of the season, the questions surrounding William Gallas and Arsenal’s defence will no doubt continue to rumble on until the summer…