In the 13 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League they have had a few different skippers over the years, but of late the armband seems to have lost its touch at The Emirates.
With Per Mertesacker probably being one of the more obvious leaders when playing this was probably a good appointment but since then his injury has kept out of action which has seemed to be a common theme recently with Arsenal captains. The German took over the captaincy from Mikel Arteta last summer following the Spaniard’s retirement but is yet to make a competitive appearance as club captain after picking up a knee injury in pre-season.
Arsenal’s Belgian bazooka of a captain was also a victim of reduced game time after appointment. Before officially becoming club captain the Thomas Vermaelen was very much a fan favourite, being able to defend as well as popping up with the odd goal. But when he was given captaincy in 2012 nothing seemed to be the same with his performance levels noticeably dropping before leaving for Barcelona two years later.
Like Mertesacker and Vermaelen, Arteta’s appearances for Arsenal began to dry up after becoming club captain. That being said, he probably isn’t the first choice for most as a captain, but like other Arsenal captains he led more by example than vocally. This has seemed to become more and more evident since the move to the Emirates with a lot of the club captains being chosen based on performance rather than leadership.
The main example that sticks out for me is Cesc Fabregas, being handed the armband mid-season at the age of just 21 it was clear he wouldn’t be the Patrick Vieira or Tony Adams type of captain. Admittedly he did embrace the captaincy with passion for the most part but I think it’s fair to say his predecessor William Gallas was better suited to the role.
Most are probably used to seeing centre backs like Gallas who are very vocal to fill the captain role but since the change from him to Fabregas, Arsenal have seemed to lack a real leader on the pitch. Since then I’m yet to see a character in the team who takes on the responsibility of being captain of Arsenal the way Adams or Vieira would on the pitch. Instead of leaders who showed they cared about both the club and the armband, recently it just looks like the player with the most experience gets the captaincy, which isn’t a totally bad thing, but Arsenal need a club captain who is always around instead of in the treatment room.
With that lack of leadership and consistency maybe this is where Arsenal’s so often talked about ‘weak mentality’ has stemmed from. This season alone we’ve seen Koscielny, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs wear the armband and those three, maybe Koscielny is an exception, aren’t captain material. Yes Walcott and Gibbs have been great servants to the club over the years but surely that alone can’t merit captaincy.
No other top teams have had these types of problems with leadership over recent years like Arsenal have and they have benefitted from it. Chelsea at the moment have John Terry who is still very much involved with the squad despite his current situation, also in that time Chelsea have had numerous leaders in their team other than Terry like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba who led by setting amazing examples.
Similarly, Manchester United throughout the Sir Alex Ferguson years had squads full of leaders which showed on the pitch. Players who knew what it took to grind out results week in week out and take matters into their own hands which it seems not many players at Arsenal know how to do. Yes Alexis Sanchez does stand out this season but he hasn’t had the impact of past players like Robin Van Persie who managed to win games on his own in that outstanding 2011/12 season, and sadly Arsene Wenger is still yet to replace the Dutchman, both in terms his goal contribution and his leadership on the pitch that season.
So maybe if the club is heading for a change in direction in the summer, this could change the direction of Arsenal’s current trend of captains and reinvent the Arsenal squads of the 90’s and early 2000’s.