Another year, another (probably) departing Arsenal captain. It would be comparable to the changing of the seasons, but living in London, I'm not entirely sure that the seasons actually do change. But one thing on which you have been able to count in recent years, summer upon summer, is that whoever is captaining Arsenal will be strongly linked to a move away from North London by every newspaper, Twitter 'ITK', and sentient non-Arsenal organism in mainland Europe. Naturally, this summer has followed suit and, like the summer before it, the rumours have much in the way of substance.
Robin van Persie's likely departure will mean many things for Arsenal: a slight change in style will be of the essence, as will a new goalscorer-in-chief and a new captain. Even if he does stay, he should be stripped of the captaincy after his statement. When the conversations start about who should take the armband from him arise, the same old jokes proclaiming 'give it to Squillaci/Denilson/Vela/another-player-who-Arsenal-fans-want-sold', but there is no real standout candidate for the role. By definition, almost, the captain must be a certified starter. Which brings the number of options down to just 7.
Wojciech Szczesny: he has shown, in patches, that he has the potential to be an extraordinary goalkeeper. But he is just 21 years old and has only 73 first team appearances to his name for Arsenal. His character is one that would embrace captaincy; he has arrogance, certainly, but his attitude to pressure is extremely encouraging, from an Arsenal perspective. His first half of last season were quite outstanding, whereas the second was rather poor. He has massive potential but has a lot to learn. He is not ready to be the Arsenal captain, but he could become a worthy option in years to come.
Bacary Sagna: the Frenchman is an excellent right back and probably the most reliable member of this Arsenal side. Since joining in 2007 he has played 40 or more games in every season, with the exception of last season, wherein he suffered a broken leg. The 29 year old also has made 205 appearances for the Gunners and has won 32 French caps. He has always been overlooked in captaincy matters, rarely seeing the armband at any point in his Arsenal career. On the pitch, he would be an ideal captain, in some respects: consistent, measured and proficient, but he does not seem to be the 'leadership type', if you will. Then again, he has not been given the chance. A strong candidate.
Thomas Vermaelen: the current vice-captain looks most likely to take the job. He has demonstrated his aptitude for the role - he is a typical 'leader' in the defence. However, there must be worries over his discipline; his goalscoring has proved a valuable asset, but at times, it has been defensively damaging. He is better than his last season would suggest, but if a captain is supposed to 'lead by example', having him charging forward at any given opportunity is not exactly a fine example to set! This will be his fourth season at the club (though really his third, given his near-complete absence from the 10/11 season) and he has been playing Champions League football since his Ajax days, where he was captain. As things stand, he is both the most likely, and probably the best choice.
He showed the ability to retain sense while those around him crumbled into lunacy at many junctures last season.
Laurent Koscielny: he is a centre half who has inspired much debate between those who have actually watched him and those who assume expertise based on the unfortunate incident in the Carling Cup final. As someone who watches him every week, he is exceptional, the best in his position Arsenal have had since Sol Campbell. But in only his fourth season in top level football, it is difficult to judge whether he is 'captaincy material'. He showed the ability to retain sense while those around him crumbled into lunacy at many junctures last season. A very tough one to call, but with a lack of experience of being a captain, he does rank below his central defensive partner.
Mikel Arteta: Arteta is a similar case to Sagna. Vastly experienced (though obviously the bulk of that is with Everton) and extremely dependable. Its being only his second season at Arsenal is something of a sticking point, but their well-documented records with and without him speak for themselves about his importance to them. He was vice captain in his time on Merseyside but if Arsenal are to sign another defensive midfielder, he is not necessarily a guaranteed starter. Potentially perfect for the vice captaincy.
Arteta is disciplined where Song is chaotic and far more aggressive.
Alex Song: Like Arteta, if Arsenal sign another defensive midfielder, he is not assured of a place in the first eleven every week. Although in every other respect, the uncapped Spaniard and he are highly different. Arteta is disciplined where Song is chaotic and far more aggressive. He is inconsistent but extremely talented. While he retains his unfocussed nature, he is not likely to become the captain any time soon.
Theo Walcott: he is another somewhat odd case to evaluate, given that he is in a similar situation to van Persie and may not be at the club next year, as he is entering the final year of his contract. He also suffers greatly on account of his inconsistency and he is a confidence player with a tendency to panic when things are going against him. He receives far more criticism than is warranted or fair but he does lack the maturity required to be the skipper.
Had Jack Wilshere not spent the last 10 months on the sidelines, he would have been an interesting choice. As a player who came through the youth system, possibly being handed the armband in his very, very early twenties, there would have been direct comparisons to Tony Adams, which worked out pretty well. But, of course, it has not worked out this way. In England, the importance of the role of captain can be very overstated, but to really evaluate who is the best choice is you have to see what van Persie did that made him the best Arsenal captain since Patrick Vieira: on the pitch, he led a team in disarray, dragging them to the Champions League, while off the pitch, he united a previously fractured dressing room.
With this in mind, I believe Vermaelen is the best man for the job, with Arteta as his deputy. Although he is not the most vocal, he is a strong leader and a well-respected member of the squad. Arsene Wenger always claims that he wants "11 captains" across the pitch. The slightly forced, slightly intended movement from signing younger players to older ones means that this vision is far more reality than once it was. With the captaincy no longer an issue, Arsenal must now look to replace the other things van Persie gave them: the goals.
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