As Arsene Wenger contemplates the season which has past, he may reflect on some of the notable successes which have underpinned a campaign which will rank as one of the more fruitful of his recent years, and that may yet prove bountiful for the Frenchman.
He may reflect on the emergence of several of his younger players—notably Abou Diaby and Alexandre Song, the continued brilliance of Cesc Fabregas, whose game has enhanced with the duties of captaincy, and Andrei Arshavin’s wizardry.
Yet at the heart of Arsenal’s success this season has been the foundation at the heart of the defence, built by Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas.
Commentators and pundits alike have, quite rightly, extolled the virtue of Thomas Vermaelen who may in time prove to be as influential and valuable a signing for Wenger as any which he has made before.
But by comparison, precious little has been made about the form of his partner William Gallas who has in all ways proved his doubters wrong as he has enjoyed a renaissance year.
Football managers scarcely like to reminisce, but it is worth remembering that this time last year Gallas’ Arsenal career appeared over. No leader of men, he polarised opinion with the Arsenal fans, as Wenger continued to show faith in the man he stripped of the captaincy.
His game too was struggling, as he appeared unsteady alongside Kolo Toure, and with change coming it appeared to be a straight shoot out between him and the Ivorian.
It was a battle he wasn’t guaranteed to win; Toure was younger and a more popular player with the Arsenal fans, but Wenger knew differently and opted for the Frenchman. Judging by their form this season, Wenger has once again proved a superb judge.
And this campaign Gallas’ has excelled, given the attacking nature of Arsenal’s play, being a defender can be a thankless task, but he has rarely let his side down and has returned to his authoritative best, perhaps liberated without the captaincy.
Yet now, as Wenger can bask in the excellence of his former captain’s form, that he has yet to tie down the 32-year-old on a new deal will be a worry.
He has expressed confidence that a deal will be thrashed out and recently said: 'Our desire is to keep William here and I think he wants to stay. He's under contract until June but we have not found an agreement yet. I will meet his agent again next Thursday and try to find a solution.”
However, such has been Gallas’ form, others clubs are interested—notably AC Milan and Roma—and Wenger admitted: "William is free to speak to other clubs but this information is difficult to check as to whether or not it's true."
The worry for Arsenal fans will be that the root cause of the lack of agreement stems from Gallas’ unwillingness to accept anything less than a two-year deal, clashing with Arsenal’s policy of offering only one-year deals to players over 30.
Wenger is believed to be willing to break this policy in Gallas’ case, and Arsenal fans will hope that an agreement can be reached because losing Gallas would be a huge blow to Arsenal, with effective replacements in short supply.
The arrival of Sol Campbell has proved surprisingly fruitful, but at 35, his effectiveness at the highest level will not last, meanwhile the appearances of Mikael Silvestre have been limited, as some would argue have been his performances.
Beyond those two veterans, Arsenal fans may hope the return of Johan Djourou may help fill the void. But returning from long-term injury is a fraught business, and whether he can reach the required level is debatable.
This is what makes the re-signing of Gallas crucial to Arsenal. He is an experienced head, but most of all a damn fine defender in a team which isn’t renowned for their defensive qualities. While Arsenal fans may have questioned his future at the club before, now it is critical his future is secure.
For all the strides Arsenal have made this season, losing William Gallas in the summer could undo much of the success which both Wenger and Arsenal have worked hard to achieve this season.