During his long injury lay-off William Gallas had the opportunity to assess the potential of his young Arsenal team-mates - and he liked what he saw.

The 29-year-old ended almost three months on the sidelines on Saturday in the 0-0 draw with Blackburn at Emirates Stadium. The Frenchman admitted that his road to recovery has been a bumpy one but he did salute his youthful colleagues for their fine form throughout his absence. Gallas firmly believes the future belongs to Arsenal.

"My team-mates have played very well while I have been away," he said. "They are very young but they have a lot of qualities and are very mature. You can only say congratulations for what they did.

"We are still in the FA Cup, we are going to play the Final of the Carling Cup and you never know in the Premiership and the Champions League."

Gallas was then asked if Arsenal will be "the team to beat in the next few years".

"Definitely," he replied immediately. "This year we have beaten Manchester United twice, we beat Liverpool and we drew at Chelsea. When we have played against the big teams, we were not afraid and at the end of the game normally we have won.

"The only thing is that we have not been consistent - that has been the problem. But Arsène is a good manager because he thinks about the future. Not maybe this year but next year Arsenal will be a very very big club."

Turning to his comeback, Gallas revealed his withdrawal after an hour on Saturday was pre-planned. He also talked about the darker days of his time spent on the treatment table.

"I could have played 90 minutes against Blackburn," said the former Chelsea star. "But it was important for my injury that I only played 60 minutes. It is normal.

"It has not been easy being out so long because I like to be on the pitch. I was not depressed [when I was injured] but I was down. However I spoke to the boss and he told me to be patient. Also all the players and everybody at Arsenal asked me how I was doing every day, that helped me a lot."

10/1 - PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal: Arsenal to win 2-0

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19 Feb 2007