Arsenal are at several crossroads this summer, and probably the coming summer, as they must fix several issues integral to their ascension into the mantle of champions: the leadership as a whole is an issue, from the management, to the board, to even the leadership on the pitch. Given that Arsène Wenger’s contract currently runs to 2017, and the board is led by Stan Kroenke, who has never sold a club as far as I’m aware, we are led to the one issue that may be addressed: the captaincy, and overall on-pitch leadership.
As it stands, the captain of Arsenal football club is the aging, possibly exiting Mikel Arteta. The captaincy, de-facto, is Per Mertesacker’s to lose at this point. As a level head, and a leader in general, the towering German is certainly nothing to be sniffed at. However, Arsenal have always been used to a captain that drives up the pitch, a captain that stands up for his team-mates and gets them roused for action; something we can truly fault him for.
Leaving out potential transfers, as no one will enter a team and immediately become its captain, and I loathe to indulge in transfer speculation, so as such, let us traipse through the shortlist of potential leaders currently at the club. The captaincy itself is irrelevant in modern-day football, it is purely symbolic, and many players even play worse with the largely-fictional burden placed upon them; what I’m focused on is leadership in itself.
Before we begin, let us first eliminate the least capable of leadership within the squad: Kieran Gibbs springs to mind, as does the more introverted Joel Campbell, the soon-to-be sold Mathieu Debuchy, and the trio of veterans in Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, and Tomáš Rosický, all of which have leadership qualities, but are not any younger than the day they arrived. We must assume that a player not likely to feature will not be much of a captain, and as such, we can safely eliminate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, and any of the youth products; including Iwobi.
This leaves us with a dilemma: where should a leader be? Should a leader be far up the pitch, scoring goals? If so, I doubt Olivier Giroud, nor Danny Welbeck possess the mental fortitude to force the team to become roused to victory; the former in particular seems to require motivation more than many in the team. Using that same logic, we can therefore eliminate Alexis Sánchez, as he appears to surrender just as quickly as many of his team-mates.
Alexis and Welbeck, however, do lead by example, as do Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Mohamed El-Neny, and Natxo Monreal. Would any of them make good captains? Perhaps, particularly a duo of Coquelin and El-Neny as co-captains of sorts. Let me be very clear that neither of them is experienced enough, however, and they are just as qualified as any player on the pitch; just as unqualified, as well.
As such, we cannot look toward the attack, nor the midfield… With figures such as the shy genius that is Mesut Özil, example is the only leadership the squad possess. In the back, however, we find more prospects. Per Mertesacker remains the de-facto captain, and for good enough reason. The passion exhibited by Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel, and Calum Chambers is nothing to be dismissed, however, nor is the future of Héctor Bellerín, who does not appear to give up as easily as some of his team-mates.
Better yet is Petr Čech, whose leadership qualities have roused his former clubs, and who could go on to become another of Arsenal’s great captains if given the chance. The issue, however, is in how effective a leader can be from the back – particularly if the team is trailing due to conceding goals. To Arsenal’s credit, the team is not facing a shortage of talent, nor of the aforementioned leadership by example.
What Arsenal is missing, and what it will continue to miss until the full maturity of its younger players – from Coquelin to Bellerín to my recently-bought countryman, to name a few – is true, vocal, confident leadership. What good is a team of defeatists, after all?