WHEN William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy after an outspoken attack on his team-mates last season, his days at Arsenal looked numbered. But such has been his professionalism since that Arsene Wenger is ready to offer him a new contract.
The Arsenal manager described Gallas' performances this season as amazing and revealed yesterday that he intends to discuss an extended deal with the centre-back's representatives this month.
The France defender's contract expires in the summer and he would like to stay, although negotiations could be complicated by Arsenal's informal policy of offering only one-year deals to outfield players over 30.
Wenger suggested that he could break his own rule to keep hold of a player who will be 33 in August, however, because Gallas would certainly attract a longer contract from several clubs in France, albeit on reduced wages.
"I have a big respect for what William has done and will meet his agents this month," Wenger said.
"Unfortunately, a one-year extension is the rule here for players over 30, except for the manager. But for a centre-back you can be a bit more open with the situation. I will see. He has the attitude of a very committed guy."
Gallas's three-and-a-half year stay at Arsenal has been eventful from the outset.
He joined the club only after allegedly threatening to score an own goal for Chelsea when his former employers were refusing to sell him in the summer of 2006.
He was a surprise choice to replace Thierry Henry as Arsenal captain a year later, a move that appeared to have backfired when he staged an extraordinary sit-down protest after a 2-2 draw away to Birmingham City in February 2008. His unsuitability for the post was confirmed by him openly criticising team-mates later that year.
Wenger admitted yesterday that he feared Gallas's future at the club was in jeopardy, but added that the player has since been a dream to manage.
"At one stage I thought he might consider leaving, but the personality clashes are sorted out now and the young players respect him," Wenger said. "It is credit to him. He had the right attitude. That means he has maybe found appetite again for the club.
"William has been amazing the whole season. He does what you dream of as a manager -- he does not talk and plays well. He wanted to do well as a captain, but what you respect in these situations is how well he responded when he was not captain anymore. He does the job fantastically well."
Given the complexity of the situation, discussions over Gallas's future could drag on and Wenger is more concerned by a Premier League title race that he believes starts in earnest this evening. Arsenal can move to second by beating Bolton Wanderers at the Emirates Stadium, with Andrey Arshavin and Denilson returning from injury.
"We have a good opportunity to come back very close to Chelsea, and we want to take it, to make it more interesting for everybody," he said.
"One month ago we were far from the top teams, and since have created momentum. We refused to give up and continued to fight and believe in our strengths.
"The biggest test in our camp was the mental strengths of the players and the solidarity of the players. That has been tested.
"What we have realised in one month gives us a good springboard to go even further. Why should we stop here? The next two months will determine how ambitious and how hungry we are."
Wenger added: "It does not mean Chelsea or Manchester United do not have hunger -- but what I know is that within our team we have a great hunger for success. We have great solidarity and team spirit.
"We are a team who has grown up together and wants to achieve things. We have not won anything yet together and that makes us hungry for success."
Despite such optimism, however, Wenger is also looking for a new striker, with Marouane Chamakh, of Bordeaux, Edin Dzeko, of Wolfsburg, and Carlton Cole in his thoughts, but will not make a decision until he discovers the prognosis for Nicklas Bendtner.
The Denmark striker returns to the club on Friday, having been treated in his homeland for a groin injury. His recovery date will inform Wenger's transfer activity.
"The real test will be in the next two weeks with the projection on Bendtner," he said. "If he is out for two months, there is no way we can cope. We will need someone, absolutely. We look anyway and if we find a good bargain, we will still do it.
"In the modern game, there is a lack of patience and one response when you lose a game -- people say to you 'buy, buy, buy'.
"I believe sometimes when you have players who are 21, 22, that they can only become better." (© The Times, London).