Premier League - Football: William Gallas - Arsenal need Champions League Football next season

15 February 2022 11:25:22 CET

William Gallas is a Premier League legend, making over 300 appearances over 10 seasons. Having won the Premier League and the Football League Cup at club level, he was also a finalist in the 2006 World Cup representing France.

Playing with and against some of the greatest ever footballers, Gallas sat down with bet365 to discuss Arsenal’s top four hopes, the situation at Spurs, Chelsea’s Premier League title charge and more.

Some have criticised Chelsea for over celebrating the Club World Cup victory while they lag far behind in the Premier League - do you think that criticism is fair?

I don't know why anyone would criticise Chelsea for celebrating winning a competition. It's another trophy to add to their honours. I think comments like this come from people who haven't played the game.

If you play in any cup competition like the F.A Cup, League Cup, Club World Cup, the players are all working so hard to get to the final and win, you want to celebrate the victory properly, as it’s never easy to win a cup competition, no matter what it is and who the competition are.

The commitment required deserves the celebration and releases all the pressure built up over each match. Congratulations to Chelsea on their success.

Chelsea's title race hasn't quite gone to plan - what do you think has gone wrong?

At the beginning of the season, I thought Chelsea would be ready to compete against City and I am a little surprised they aren’t at the moment. They’ve dropped so many points against teams that they should have beaten.

That is something they need to fix for the next season. The Premier League is very tough. You play every weekend, so you need to have a strong squad and to have a strong squad you need the right players in each position.

Ultimately, the difference between Chelsea and the teams above them like City and Liverpool is consistency. Chelsea have not been consistent in the League, and they need to develop and sign players who are masters of consistency.

If Chelsea are to have a title challenge next season, who do you think they should be looking to bring in, this summer?

I think one area they will look to improve will be at left back, even if they play in a different system with three at the back you always need to have a high quality left back and I think that is an area they’ll strengthen in the transfer window. Ben Chilwell is injured, and you don't know when or how he'll come back. Maybe they could do with another player in front of the playmaker too.

They've got three defenders out of contract over summer. If all three of them left, how difficult is it to build a new backline?

It's very difficult to build new partnerships as you need to settle, you have to know each other. It can take time and I don't think next season Chelsea have time. They'll want to win the Premier League again next season so that's why they need to find a solution with Rudiger and Azpilicueta. You could spend a lot of money signing new players and there's no guarantee they'll have a good season.

What should Chelsea's priority be for the remainder of the season?

In terms of on the pitch, they've won the Club World Cup so now I'd like them to focus on the league and push Man City with an aim of finishing a close second. They of course have to defend their Champions League title as well.

How they perform in the League will set the tone for next season where they can kick start a league title challenge.

Should Romelu Lukaku be the Blues' main striker next season?

The issue he had a few weeks back with the interview given to Italian media didn't put him in the best light.

He put more pressure on himself and now everyone is demanding and expecting him to score goals every game.

If he doesn’t stay next season, people won’t understand why Chelsea brought him back. He needs to have a big season next year. He certainly has a huge amount of talent.

Have you been impressed by Arsenal's turnaround this season under Mikel Arteta?

Yes, I have been. They've had some good results and shown great character. At the moment, Arsenal are doing quite well, and we'll see just how good a job Mikel has done if they make Europe, and specifically the top four at the end of the season.

On that note, who do you think takes the final top four spot assuming Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will take the top three?

It'll be very exciting to see. Arsenal after winning 1-0 against Wolves look a strong contender, that was a big result for them. I know there's West Ham as well who look good this year, but Arsenal have a great opportunity to finish fourth. I’m backing them to do it.

Is it a failed season if they don’t make the top four then?

If they don't finish top four, it's a failure. It's that simple. When you play and manage a big club like Arsenal, your target is to finish top four. I know it's not easy with so many clubs like City, Chelsea, United, Liverpool, Tottenham but that doesn't matter - you have to finish in the top four at a minimum.

You've got a strong squad with Arsenal, if Arteta doesn't make top four, he's failed.

It’s widely believed that Arsenal will look to sign a striker in the summer. Do you have a particular player you think they will sign?

There's an expectation within the club that Lacazette is leaving in the summer, so they need to find at least one top striker to replace him and Aubameyang.

There are no players that stand out to me at the minute that are within Arsenal’s budget. I just want to see them sign a striker who can score at least 20 goals a season. That’s not easy to find, but for a striker, that's the standards of what we expect at a club of Arsenal's stature.

For teams like Man City, the way they play they don't need an out and out striker. All of their team can score. But for Arsenal they need a good, solid striker who can score a minimum of 20 goals a season.

There's been speculation that Saka could look to leave if the club finish outside the top-four, how crucial is it to have CL football to keep players of his ilk?

The Champions League is the best competition to play in, hearing that music and dreaming about lifting that trophy. All players dream about playing in and winning the Champions League, so it's very important for Arsenal to be there next season.

If they want to keep the best players in their team and attract the best from around the world, then they need to be in the Champions League or certainly from Arsenal’s point of view, back playing European football.

The back-to-back titles were probably the most successful part of your career, so what did it feel like leaving a team that had won a lot to joining Arsenal?

At first, I hadn’t expected that I would move to Arsenal. Originally, I had planned to go to Italy, to A.C Milan but it didn't happen and that’s football. I spoke with my agent, and we started looking where I can go.

I had the opportunity to go to Arsenal and I knew I wanted to stay in England and ideally in London for my family. At the time Thierry Henry was there, they had great young players coming through, so I went there as it was a good opportunity to play for a big club and to try win trophies with them.

We saw Aubameyang leave Arsenal recently after losing the captaincy. You lost the captaincy but stayed for 18 more months. Do you regret the situation which led to you losing the captaincy?

My situation was not easy, but I was strong enough to deal with it. Some people didn’t want me to be the captain anymore.

Unfortunately, some in the English media misunderstood the translation of my interview and twisted what I said with a French newspaper when I was on duty with the French National team.

It made me look terrible. My comment of, ‘we (Arsenal) aren’t soldiers and we have to be soldiers on the pitch’, included myself, but it was made out like I was saying my teammates were not soldiers and I was, as if I was better than them. It looked like I was blaming them and not the whole team including myself.
 
You can imagine the reaction I got when I went back to the club, it made life difficult for me as the staff and players didn't understand why I'd make such a comment. But I was a strong guy, so the most important thing for me was to be a top player on the pitch and not worry about what people said or thought I said.

Do you think the club were right to let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to leave and how do you assess Mikel Arteta's handling of the situation?

If the club took that decision, they must have a reason to let Aubameyang go to Barcelona. They took that decision in the best interests of the squad. Something has clearly happened; we don't know what happened between Aubameyang and Arteta and now everyone has to move on.

It looks like Arsenal without him are doing well, their goal is to qualify for the Champions League. If they do that, everyone will say they made the right decision but if they don’t, they'll say why did they let Aubameyang leave?

Ultimately, we'll only know at the end of the season.

During your period at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger kept Arsenal in the top four despite the challenges of moving to the Emirates. How do you feel Mourinho would have done with the Arsenal side during the period you spent there?

To be honest, I don't know if the personality of Jose Mourinho would have been right for the group of players at Arsenal during my period there, I don’t know if they could have dealt with it.

Mourinho has a strong character, and he wants to have a certain type of personality in his players. He puts pressure on you every day and you want to do well for him.

So that means being on top form every day in training and every match week. He'll try to test you. He knows how difficult some games can be and he needs warriors on the pitch to raise to the occasion.

That's why whenever he arrives at a new club, he'll test you to your limit. It was not easy for me, but I showed him what I could do and that's why I was playing regularly.

Do you feel you received enough praise for the contribution you made to the French national team? You were part of the team that made the final in 2006 but also part of a disappointing 2010 World Cup?

I don't really worry about it. I know what I did for my country, I know I played at the top level and that's the most important thing for me.

After what happened in 2010, people put my name in the newspapers as one of the players who was supposedly disruptive. I don't think that was fair or correct because at the end I didn't do anything wrong. Decisions were taken as a collective, not just the decision of a few. The way it was reported made it seem it was just a handful of us, but that was not the case.

It was difficult for my family to read all that. Slowly now, as years pass, people are talking more about the truth, and they know it was the fault of the coach, not the players.

I'm very clear about what happened. Patrice Evra has written about it in his book and has spoken about it on French television in terms of exactly what happened. All the players said the same thing - it was the fault of the manager.

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Who was the funniest teammate you came across in your career?

Patrice Evra, we were laughing all the time we were together with the national team. It was unbelievable how we could laugh about anything. It was a great time being with him.

In terms of a club, at Arsenal it was Emmanuel Eboue – it wasn’t that he was telling jokes or one liners, but the stories of what he’s been getting up to and the crazy things that had happened to him.

I knew every day walking into training I'd be laughing in the dressing room. I think that's really important actually - it allows the squad to have a good understanding between players and a good atmosphere.

Which club did you play at with the best dressing room atmosphere?

All clubs in England were great to be honest, they were all slightly different, but they were all great in their own way. There's a big difference between English clubs and European clubs.

When I first joined Chelsea from France, I was surprised when I entered the dressing room and the music was on, even on weekends when we had matches to play and I expected a different environment.

After a few weeks I got used to it and really liked it. I remember we tried to do the same thing with the French National team. At the beginning some players who hadn't played in England they didn't understand what was going on with music in the dressing room.

Slowly the big players understood it when they originally weren't happy with the music! So you can credit English football culture for that.

A former teammate of yours Emmanuel Adebayor has one of the most famous goal celebrations in the Premier League when he scored for Manchester City against your Arsenal side in 2009. What did you and the Arsenal team make of that celebration that day?

When I saw him run, I didn't understand why he was running so fast and then when I saw it was to celebrate, I think what he did was the result of a lot of pressure.

He left Arsenal and some people made judgements on him. What he did was wrong, even if he wanted to show he was disappointed by what people said about him, you have to stay calm, even when you score.

You have to keep your emotions in check. What he did was not right.

Nicklas Bendtner was quite the character, earning the nickname of Lord Bendtner – what was he like as a person and a player?

Nick had a lot of confidence - he had the quality to be a top-class striker. When I played with him, he was very young, and while it’s good to have confidence, you have to show it on the pitch, and you have to be patient.

I don't think Nicklas was patient enough, because he wanted to play every game and he didn't understand why some players were in front of him.

When you're on the bench you have to be patient and focused just in case you come on. Play well and you'll make the starting eleven. Players want to play every game straight away and possibly his lack of patience meant he didn't have the career he should have, but he was a good player.

What do you make of the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and other players you played with and against now being managers?

I actually never expected Frank to be a manger, when I was playing with him - we never talked about it. Maybe he spoke about it with John Terry as they were very close but personally, I never expected him to become one, though he was of course a wonderful player who loves the game.

I'm very happy for him as he's doing a great job. He did well at Derby, Chelsea he didn't get enough time in my opinion but at Everton already he's winning games again. With more experience I believe he'll be one of the best English managers and I want him to do well.

To see Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, it shows you how fast life can change. Steven Gerrard on the pitch was a top-class player and it'll be a challenge for him to get the players he manages to be as good as he was on the pitch, but he has started well at Aston Villa after a good spell with Rangers.

You’ve played under some great managers. Which manager has the best sense of humour?

Jose Mourinho and Wenger both had a good sense of humour. Jose will come to you and make you laugh with a joke. He was very close with all the players and Arsene Wenger was more one to one. Sometimes he'd save a funny story just for one player to hear. I liked them both a lot!

We’ve just come out of transfer window and there are often videos posted to social media of team initiations such as a new player performing a song as karaoke – what do you make of them, do you have a personal favourite you’ve been involved with or seen during your career?

To be honest the worst one was when I joined Chelsea, I had to sing. I'm not a good singer so it was difficult for me as I didn't really understand English so much at the time.

They told me I had to do it. I felt the pressure! I couldn't sleep the night before as I was very nervous, and Claudio got behind me and said William it's now time for you to give a speech or sing. So, I said oh my gosh, I went into the middle of the room, I stood on the chair, and I tried to sing but I could not sing - no words would come out my mouth!

It maybe lasted 10 seconds, at the end all the players look at me and ask what song was that? I said to Marcel Desailly and Emmanuel Petit it was a French song! It was a highly embarrassing moment, perhaps the most embarrassing of my career. I had so much pressure, I was sweating, finding myself at a new club and I didn’t speak any English. I was just so nervous!

I couldn't even tell you what song it was - I don't remember. I was just happy nobody was recording, it was not like today when everyone records everything from their phones, so I was lucky!

Tottenham continue to be plagued by inconsistent performances this season. What do you feel is behind that?

I think Conte doesn't have the right players. He doesn't have the right players for the top four places. He needs more time to build his squad. He knows exactly which type of player he'll need to sign for next season and the chairman needs to give him the budget and opportunity to get these players Conte wants in.

Tottenham should have ambitions of the top four and in time, winning the league. Top players are expensive these days so they need to get a handle of their scouting network and bring in talent who can contribute without the weight of expectation on them. We've seen how massive fees can affect players like Harry Maguire.

Do you think Conte is the right man to lead Spurs forward and do you think they'll finish in the top 4?

I think he's the right man but again, he doesn't have the right players. So that's why he needs time to build his squad with the right players - this squad isn't his. The top four will be difficult, especially when you've lost two at home over the past few games. Conte has to find the solution to get the 3 points fast otherwise they will drop more points and the Champions League qualification won't be possible.

West Ham, Man United, Arsenal are all there so it will be hard. It's difficult for Tottenham because Harry Kane is not on top form. Last summer he was really disappointed not to leave so their problems are confounded by not having the best version of Harry Kane in this Spurs team.

Do you think the club should sell him (Harry Kane) in the summer to rebuild the team?

At the beginning of the season, I said they have to sell him. Harry wanted to leave, and he was really disappointed he didn't go. When you are disappointed you have two choices - to put yourself right and come back on the pitch and play as you need to, or you give up.

At the minute he hasn’t scored the number of goals you would expect. For the last few years, he's been the top scorer of the club and the Premier League and at times it’s almost looked like he’d rather be playing elsewhere. 

In my opinion, Tottenham doesn't really have any choice but to let him leave now at the end of the season. 

Harry Maguire has come under a lot of criticism recently. Do you think that's fair?

Yes, I think it’s fair that Maguire has faced criticism. When you play for the big clubs, you have to be a top-class defender and this season he has not been playing at the level you’d expect. 

The transfer fee of £80m is one you would expect of a world class defender and right now I’m not sure he’s performing like one. He was not responsible for the huge transfer fee; I don’t believe he’s worth £80m and the fee has meant he’s under extra scrutiny. Maybe it’s a mistake of Manchester United to have paid so much for him. I hope his performances will improve.

Who was the most difficult player you faced in the Premier League?

The most difficult I came up against I'd say was Didier Drogba, it was not easy to play against him even though I knew him very well. But because he was so strong, I was in trouble. Players like Drogba were those I found difficult - big strong guys who run at you.

If you could create a five a side team together of those you played with, who would it be?

Including a goalkeeper, I'd put in Petr Cech, John Terry, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Frank Lampard, with Cesc Fabregas on the bench. In terms of who would manage this team, I'd put in Jose Mourinho!

Jose Mourinho, you said he'd manage your five a side - did you enjoy playing under him?

Mourinho knows how to win in Italy, Spain, England. He needs his players to have commitment and train hard during the week and play well at the weekend, otherwise you end up on the bench.

I don't think some players understood that. They just thought, 'I've got the quality and I go on the pitch and make the difference'.

That may be true for one game or two but for the whole season is very tough with that attitude. That's why a manager like Mourinho will explain it to you and I always appreciated his honesty, his winning mentality and that he was a perfectionist.

Armando Broja, who has been so impressive for Southampton on loan, should be given a chance at Chelsea?

Everyone needs to get their chance, if you have a good game and you show what you can do on loan, you have to be given the opportunity at your parent club.

The question he has to answer is can he sustain his performances over a season and not just for a few games. Once he answers that, I expect that he can work his way into being involved with the Chelsea team.

Which club did you feel most comfortable at, taking in to account all aspects of life and not just whether the team was winning?

It was a really different experience at each club, and I had a great time at Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. Great teammates. When I was at Chelsea, I was playing with players who had a certain edge and we won titles, so we had this understanding with each other.

When I moved to Arsenal and Tottenham, it was completely different so it’s hard to say one team stands out as the best.

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