With the future both Laurent Koscielny & Mesut Özil in doubt and the departures of both Aaron Ramsey & Petr Čech, the captaincy at Arsenal next season is up for grabs. Even if our current skipper remains at the club, with Arsenal being heavily linked to William Saliba, Joachim Andersen & Armando Izzo, it would appear that the Frenchman will no longer be viewed as a starter by Unai Emery. Not to mention that we still have Rob Holding to return from his long-term injury. Although it is possible for a new signing to fit the bill, I think it’s unlikely that someone would be handed the armband upon arrival. A key characteristic of captains is understanding the club: from its strengths/weaknesses on the pitch to the individual personalities of each member of the squad off the field. For this reason, I believe that it should be one of our current players who receive the honour of being known as the captain of the football club we all know and love. Throughout this article, I will give my thoughts on three potential candidates, and delve into the pros and cons associated with each of them.
1. Alexandre Lacazette.
The Frenchman was our player of the season last year, but offers so much more than simply goals. He is very underrated from a creative standpoint, works relentlessly and wears his heart on his sleeve. Alan Smith said in an interview last season that ’he truly cares about the fortunes of his employers’ and it is a very fair comment. He gives 110% every game, from the first whistle to the last. He motivates the fans when the atmosphere is down. He is subtly a leader and a key figure in the dressing room. His English has improved significantly over the past 12 months and he is essentially fluent now, so communication wouldn’t be much of an issue. He is well liked by all and is picked for virtually every game by Unai Emery. He is a very respectful individual off the pitch too, who is never involved in controversy and represents the club very well. He is also 28, so still has at least a few years left in the tank before we might need to think about moving him on. In many ways, awarding the captaincy to a player who is 31 would be unwise, as we’d be forced to address the same issue in a few years, once the player is ready to depart. On the other hand, awarding the captaincy to a player who 22 or under might backfire as they mightn’t have the necessary experience or maturity to take on such a role in the early stage of their career. In my opinion, Lacazette offers a solid middleground in this discussion and is a viable option for the armband.
2. Héctor Bellerín.
I’m sure that this suggestion will raise a few eyebrows. Héctor doesn’t exactly fit the traditional view of a captain. He’s not aggressive, he won’t scream in the face of a teammate when they make a mistake and he’s still only just 24. However, he holds many traits which would make him a logical candidate for the captaincy. For starters, he evidently loves the club. He’s been here since he was a teenager, loves London and signed a long-term contract when there was reported interest from his boyhood club Barcelona. On the pitch, he is a key figure in Emery’s setup, who will feature in most, if not all, of the games for which he is available. This is beneficial, as having to change the skipper on a weekly basis based on team selection can be problematic, as we’ve seen in recent years. He is well-liked by all in the dressing room. He speaks perfect English but can also communicate with the Spaniards. This would also be beneficial for helping Unai to get points across if the manager’s English isn’t up to scratch on certain topics. Similarly to Lacazette, he is a subtle leader, but a leader nonetheless. He won’t scream and shout at you, he’ll come over to you when there’s a stoppage in play, put his arm around your shoulder and advise you on how to improve next time. Off the pitch, he is a great ambassador for the club. He speaks up about various world issues such as racism, abortion, environmentalism, individualism and mental health. He is also involved with various charity projects and raises funds on a regular basis. Finally, Héctor is still only 24, so he could still easily perform at the top level for another 7-10 seasons. Being able to appoint a captain who will be here in the long run would be beneficial for all involved, and I believe that Bellerín would be a fantastic choice.
3. Granit Xhaka.
Granit Xhaka has always been a player who divides opinion. Some think he’s one of the most crucial players in the starting XI, and that we can’t even remotely function in his absence. Others think he’s a complete liability who offers nothing to the side. Where do I stand? Somewhere in the middle. Whilst there are undeniable weaknesses in his game, such as concentration, I do believe that the side struggles to transition the ball from defense to attack without him being present. Nonetheless, regardless of your opinion on his ability, his leadership qualities cannot be questioned. He was captain for Borussia Mönchengoadbach when he was only 21 and is currently the skipper of the Swiss national team. Bar Sokratis, he is probably the closest thing that we have to a traditional captain in the squad. He is vocal, a fixture in the XI, still only 26, has fluent English & has spoken out on numerous occasions about his love for Arsenal Football Club. He has never been involved in any major incidents off the field and represents the club very well. There were some reports a few weeks ago claiming that he was close to joining Inter Milan, but those appear to have been fabricated. It would appear that his future still lies in London and that he will be present for next season at the very least. Whilst 26 doesn’t make him young, players in his position can play well into their thirties, as seen with the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso. Due to this, he could serve as a long-term option for the captaincy.
Honorable mention: Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Sokratis has a great first season in London and has almost all of the qualities necessary for a captain. However, the main reasons that I wouldn’t want to see him awarded the armband is his age and the fact that he’s only been at the club for a single year. He turned 31 this month and I’d presume that he won’t be a guaranteed starter in the future as his body begins to naturally decline with age. Whilst his leadership and commitment can not be questioned, awarding him with the armband would only be a temporary solution and we’d end up facing the same issue in one-two years time. To prevent this, I believe that offering the role to a younger player would be more beneficial. Secondly, he has only been an Arsenal player for a year. As a result, he mightn’t know the ins and outs of the squad to the extent of someone like Héctor Bellerín, who has been a regular in the first team since early 2015. With these two reasons coupled up, he wouldn’t be one of my ideal three candidates for the role.
Overall, I would be happy with any of the three options which I have presented you with. All have many pros, and also some cons. If I had to give my preference, I would probably opt for Héctor Bellerín. Nonetheless, what’s most important is that the eventual decision benefits the club. Let’s hope that we’ll make the right choice and it will be the first step of many on the road back to Champions League football.