Seven months ago, after one of the most drawn out transfer sagas in recent memory, Arsenal and Chelsea both lost a player, gained a player, and claimed victory in the deadline day wranglings. At the time, it wasn’t clear who had got the better deal – Arsenal with a world class versatile defender and five million? Or Chelsea with a younger player and arguably the best left back in the world?
Gaining Gallas was seen as a massive boost, especially with Kolo Toure, at 25, lending the only experience to a youthful and error-prone back line. Also, Cole wanted to leave, had turned the fans against him, and was causing ruptures in the dressing room with his attitude and his book, not least with Cesc Fabregas. For morale purposes, he had to go.
Getting five million to boot was a handy extra, and more than paid for the Brazilian Denilson, who slipped under the radar on the same day and still left Wenger with a profit..
Gallas has been excellent when he’s been fit, but has caused a few rifts (at least with the fans) when he hasn’t. A few choice comments about the team followed a few months of barbs back to Stamford Bridge, and the latest rumour that he maybe refusing to play at left back isn’t a good sign either. But, the pairing of Gallas and Toure, fit for a season, would stand Arsenal in superb stead.
At centre back, Arsenal are without doubt stronger now. But what about left back? Clearly Clichy is not as good as Cole, but he has been one of the best players for Arsenal this season, so the money grabber hasn’t been missed. However, the worry remains that Clichy’s legs are made of polystyrene, and even with the talented teenager Traore waiting in the wings, an injury to the Frenchman would create a weak link.
Losing Gallas infuriated Mourinho, but he felt he needed a new left back and enticed Cole across London in return. Without a doubt they are stronger at left back, since, like Clichy, Bridge is extremely susceptible to injury.
The worry for Chelsea is at centre back, where Mourinho has been moaning all season that they have ‘no players’ when a couple are injured (quite how a man spends a couple of hundred million and then claims not to have a big enough squad is beyond me – every other manager in the Premiership calls up youth players at that point). Even more bizarrely, given his consistent complaining, he let Robert Huth go along with Gallas in the summer. The sticky spell Chelsea then had when Terry was injured and they conceded two a game may yet cost them the title.
The argument however lies in the ages. Cole is considerably younger than Gallas and can serve Chelsea for longer than his Arsenal counterpart, a fact which surely led to the five million Arsenal received.
So who did get the better deal?
It’s difficult to judge when you’re biased, but both sides will feel they did pretty well. They both got rid of players who no longer wanted to be around, replacing them with quality.
But for me Arsenal have to edge it, for two reasons. Firstly, the age consideration goes out of the window when you consider Wenger actually got 18 year old Denilson and Gallas, for Cole. That provides a player for now, and a potential key player for the future, who is playing much more than he would expect due to his obvious talent.
The second reason is that of balance. Arsenal now have balanced strength along the back – replacing Cole with Clichy wasn’t strenuous, and the central defensive position is now much more solid even when a couple are injured. That is something that can no longer be said about Chelsea, by Jose’s own admission – a couple of centre backs down, and they ‘cannot cope’.
Frankly, that’s his own fault. But I for one am happy how it has turned out. The longer Wenger stays, the more bargains will come through the door.