Xhaka to be new Arsenal captain? Surely not…
Arsène Wenger famously puts little stock into the captain’s armband – or so popular misconception would have you believe. Arsenal’s manager clearly recognises the importance of the club captain; he’s just not as sentimental about it. He picks captains based on their ability to lead the team or to signify their importance. There have been times when he has handed the armband to players to help reinforce their bond with the club and warn off potential suitors; Henry, Fabregas and Van Persie come to mind.
The only “questionable” decision was to hand Gallas the armband over Gilberto. It’s possible that Wenger preferred a centre-back as captain but I believe it was forward-planning for his project youth vision. He wanted stability, and experience, in the captaincy as he transitioned to an Arsenal team with an average age of under 23 and likely envisaged Gilberto leaving within a season – unfortunately he was not to know that Gallas would crack under the pressure of leading a verdant side.
Following two captaincies where there was little other choice we entered the era of Vermaelen and Arteta – two players who were not only leaders but well respected in the dressing room and uncontroversial in the media, steady hands if you will. Mikel more than Thomas, was the perfect captain for Arsenal. Tactically astute, technically gifted, satisfied with his position in the team, willing to mentor those who kept him out of the team and genuinely honoured to hold such a position. Arteta acted, at all times, with the grace of an Arsenal captain.
With Arteta’s retirement confirmed, or at least his departure from Arsenal, the captaincy is once again vacant. The Arsenal tipster at betting tips does a good job with my weekend spread so I’d love to pick his brains on who will fill Arteta’s spot and where the good money is at. Traditionally under Wenger – Gallas the only notable exception – the armband has been passed on to the vice-captain; in this case, Per Mertesacker. However, the media is convinced it will be Laurent Koscielny – although they were convinced it would be Cech back in February.
I see the logic in choosing Koscielny over Mertesacker as our last two captains have mostly been bench players but Wenger doesn’t seem to think like that. He chooses captains based on what they can offer the squad, not just if they’re going to start most matches. Logically you would choose a player who is both but that’s the conundrum, Arsenal seems lacking in “leaders”.
It’s a massive cliché but none of the players I believe are nailed on starters have the abilities I would want my captain to possess; organisation, vocal presence, respect of the dressing room, tactical astuteness.
Per Mertesacker is 100% my choice. He’s the logical choice. He’s well-respected inside the club, he’s experienced, he has great organisational skills, he’s tactically sound and is relatively vocal – he’s also a world-cup winner, he might not have started after the quarters but he was in that squad for a reason. He’s not quite Mathieu Flamini scream and point kind of vocal but he is constantly talking to the players around him. He also is the fine-collector at Arsenal.
I still think he’ll start most games next season, unless we buy another centre-back. He’s still the best ‘defender’ we have and as maligned as he is by some, his absence is noticed.
I like Koscielny but I think he’s constantly at risk of an Achilles relapse and lacks the organisational skills to be an effective captain. I don’t think he’s an inspirational leader or someone who will attempt to push us through games we’re struggling in. He’s a fine defender; I don’t believe he has the aura to lead The Arsenal.
Mesut is the greatest playmaker in the world. End of. He’s shown this past season that he can lift the team through the sheer brilliance of his own performances but I also think he’s a naturally shy character so would struggle with the expectation of leadership. Like Cazorla he’s a great technical leader but I’m not convinced he needs the armband to do that effectively.
“I prefer to leave that to the others [leadership]. It is not in my nature to smack the table with my fist. I am someone who is generally calm and that will never change.” – Mesut Özil
Then there is Cech. Petr Cech is a Premier League winning and record setting goal-keeper. He ticks all of the same boxes as Mertesacker but his minus point is that he’s in goal. If Mertesacker doesn’t get it, and we’re picking based on who starts the most, then my betting tips all point to Cech for next Arsenal captain.
And so we turn to Granit. Now, this would be a curve ball. Xhaka is the natural playing replacement for Arteta so why not take the captaincy as well? He captained Borussia Mönchengladbach to a Champions League finish last season and his position on the pitch makes him perfectly placed to marshal the defence and attack. He’s technically and tactically adept, quite vocal and guaranteed to start most weeks.
“I don’t think it’s the same. In Germany you can play aggressively but the referee will always blow his whistle, but in England that’s not the case. That’s better for me. I like to play football. I’m an aggressive player and also a leader. I’m only 23 but I captained a good team in Germany. When I was younger, even though I had a big brother, my parents would give me the house key every day. It’s in my head that I am a leader and captaining Monchengladbach was very good for me.” – Granit Xhaka
He stated in his interview with Arsenal Player that he’s aggressive and a leader and the interview seemed to focus a lot on his leadership skills – a hint maybe? In many ways he is an ideal choice however appointing a new signing as club captain over long-serving players who covet the armband could spell dressing room disaster. Xhaka is one to watch though as whoever gets the armband this season will likely be giving it up in a year or so.
My last mention goes to Aaron. I’ve long maintained that Ramsey is a future Arsenal captain. The past season has made me doubt that slightly as he no longer seems an immovable object in Arsenal’s midfield – however, Xhaka might be the key to Ramsey rediscovering his best self. If Ramsey can get back into the team and find his 2013 /14 form again he could be back into contention for the next time around.
A lot of people care desperately about the armband – I care more about shirt numbers because I’m OCD like that – but I think Wenger understands it best. The captaincy at Arsenal should be more than who starts every week, who shouts loudest or who scores the most goals. Leadership comes in many forms and I believe we have a team full of leaders. I know I said earlier that Arsenal seems lacking in “leaders” but there’s a reason I put that in quotes.
I believe fans of English teams look at the captaincy as being about leading your team into battle. Being the first soldier out on the battlefield. For me, the captaincy is about inspiration and that doesn’t always mean leading by example. It can mean saying the right words at the right time. Understanding which players need a caring hug and who needs tough love.
That’s why I think Mertesacker is the best choice. Not only is he already the vice-captain and thus the natural successor, he also understands his team-mates. He knows when he has to put his arm around Ox for making a defensive mistake, publicly bro-out with Theo to keep his morale up or scream in Özil’s face. He’s also highly respected by the manager and would be the ideal bridge between management and playing staff. Maybe most importantly, he would also appreciate his position in the squad for what it is, no matter what it is. He would never angle for a move or think himself too important to be dropped. A defender like Per is acutely aware of tactics and would always appreciate the reasons why he isn’t playing – much like Mikel.
Also like Mikel, Mertesacker truly loves the club. Arteta fell in love with it when he got here and grew to know what Arsenal was about. Mertesacker has always known and that’s why he should be the next captain.
I’ve deliberately left a lot of names out so you can make good use of the comments section below.
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