the past few seasons Arsenal have had many a short-term captain, but not a
stable, long-term leader. This is partially down to the fact that our captains
have been sold one after the other for the past six or seven years, however there
was also one horrific choice of captain in William Gallas a few years back, who
was just awful.
Yet even when we thought we’d found a true,
committed leader in Thomas Vermaelen, the weight of expectation and
responsibility came out on top. Thomas had without doubt his worst season in
Arsenal colours and was dropped from the first team (quite rightly too).
There was speculation that the Belgian may be
sold this summer, however it now looks likely that he will stay and fight or
his place (which I’m very happy about!). Arsene Wenger has stated that
Vermaelen will still be club captain next season, despite being not only
injured at the moment, but down the pecking order in terms of centre-backs.
But what I want to ask is, does being captain
mean as much nowadays? Of course it MEANS something to the player, but does it
really matter when a team is led by those who step up to the plate and take
charge, not simply by someone who feels obliged to do so. Arsenal have many
leaders on the pitch. For instance, in defence, it’s Per Mertesacker; the
experienced, vocal and cool-headed centre-back. In midfield, you can take your
pick from one of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey who are all
vocal, passionate and intelligent players. Having an array of players who are
capable of leading a team is very encouraging and when this is coupled with
what appears to be a very good understanding between players, it means the team
are less reliant on one player for encouragement and criticism.
Having said this, I still think it is
important to have a captain who will step up to the plate all of the time, even
when others fall short. For me, that is part of what being captain of a team
is. It is accepting your responsibility to give absolutely everything and to be
continuously positive and/or constructively critical when interacting with your
teammates. It’s pretty clear to us all that Vermaelen was not that man for us
last season and he may well struggle to be in the coming season too. On one
hand, I feel as though Wenger should have officially handed over the armband to
someone else (e.g. Arteta) who has proven themselves to be a consistent and
effective leader on and off the pitch (but I’ll talk more about him later).
On the other hand, I’m happy that Vermaelen
has remained captain. Firstly, I think that continuity is essential and having
a captain who lasts more than one season would be nice. Secondly, I think that
the decision to stick with Vermaelen will give him confidence with regard to
the manager’s renewed belief in him and push him to try and win back his place
in the team. Of course, we thought Vermaelen would thrive when he received the
armband last season, but having fallen out of favour, going through a rough
year and having a period to focus (injury), I’m tipping Tommy V to have a resurgence
of sorts in the 13/14 Premier League campaign.
Now, I’d just like to shower some more praise
on a player who I think is best suited to the role of captain. That player is
of course Mikel Arteta. His wise words, positive energy and experience was probably
one of the main reasons as to why we managed to finish in the top four with a
relatively new-look side. I’m thankful for that, but I’m even more thankful
that we have him in our ranks for this year too. If we do, as expected, invest
and bring in some top players, those top players will most likely be playing
week in, week out. Mikel (assisted by others) will most likely play a crucial
role in welcoming them and encouraging the integration of new faces with a view
to hit the ground running.
Another aspect of Mikel’s leadership that I
love is his constant displays of ambition and utmost confidence in his
teammates. He wants to be winning things at Arsenal, like all of our players
do. But Mikel is running out of time. He knows he only has one or two more
years at the very top (starting for the first team). Because of that, he wants
success even more and effuses that desire to succeed throughout the dressing
room. It may be a slightly selfish way of mustering hunger, but let’s be
honest, footballers are selfish and it was ever thus.
A captain is needed in every team, but the
outstanding responsibility has, in my opinion, lessened in recent years.
Football has developed and evolved as a game to a fast-paced battle which
requires a certain level of tactical astuteness. Because of this, teams have to
be more in sync with one another and every player in a team must have a better
understanding with one another. This thinly spread approach, in my view, leads
to more players that appear to possess ‘leadership’ qualities.
True leaders still exist, but they aren’t
necessarily the ones wearing a nylon band around their arm, nor weighed down
with all that comes with the role of captain. Does that mean that captaincy is
losing its importance? Or even its very meaning? Maybe, maybe not. But I
believe a cohesive team accompanied by not just one, but a few strong
characters is the ideal formula. The captaincy is an instability issue at
Arsenal, as seems to be the case with our general squad make up in recent years
– always chopping and changing. But what one man wears around his arm does not
determine which teams are successful in modern football.