Tag Archives: armband

O Captain, My Captain

The game has changed massively over the years. In fact, blink and the version your eyes see will be different to the one pre-blink.

Perhaps not, but season after season changes the sport we all enjoy. Just look at this latest incarnation of the Premier League. VAR has transformed how we view all instances, and even how we celebrate goals, a hush falls over player and fan alike as we wait for the permission to celebrate or commiserate.

Surely though, the values that embody a captain of a football club haven’t changed, have they?

Maybe they have. As the sport changes, does a role within a team have to change? Take a midfielder for instance. It used to be that a man in the centre didn’t have to be a presence in both areas of the pitch and have a skillset reminiscent of an elaborate Swiss Army Knife.

There are still roles on the pitch that demand a very ‘boxed-in’ set of talents, but as the pace in the Premier League speeds up and the technical quality increases exponentially, it means players must rise with it, or fear being left by the wayside and plying their trade in the lower leagues.

A captain though, what does it mean to lead the team out week on week?

That is how you pick the right man for the job. The Skipper predominantly is the middle man between the manager and the team on the pitch. Relaying dynamic instructions from the sidelines, and picking up when those instructions slip.

The man wearing the armband is also the mouth for the team, when decisions require a quick convo with the man in black he is the one who must offer his side’s argument, or try and appease the ref if he is thinking of reaching into his pocket.

Both require a cool head, a temperament that can remain literate even when the red mists have descended.

So, from our pool of five captains, do any of them tick these boxes?

The first choice who will be the skipper for the majority would have been Granit Xhaka – before Monday’s events.

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This has been a major point of consternation in our fanbase. The Swiss man divides opinion in a big way, and his high profile errors have stained his copybook with many. Can a player who is letting the side down, then expect to pick up his teammates and squeeze out an extra five percent of effort from them?

Alternatively, Xhaka is one of the few players we have that does attempt to keep his teammates on their toes. After we score, you often see Xhaka point to his head in an attempt to show his comrades that THIS is the time that demands concentration.

It would be good if he could take his advice of course…

You need the man wearing the armband to be the arm round the shoulder in times of crisis or duress. You need the skipper to be the man stepping up when his men need them to. The old-school version of a skipper may well be a thing of the past, but some of the attributes are still highly relevant.

His actions after being booed now mean that we need someone else to stand up. His tenure with the armband is over, his temperament is not suited to lead the team.

We do have some prime candidates for the armband, such as Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding. These boys seem to be well stocked in heart and cold hard sense when it matters most, but is it too soon to name players of their age?

No, not really.

Because there is one facet of wearing the armband that is more important than anything else. We have had captains that have lacked it and the results were expectedly poor.

A captain should above all else, love the club that they represent. They should see the captaincy as a privilege.

Can we say that about Xhaka?

Because we can certainly say that about Bellerin.

What do you think?

Bellerin For Captain?

Last season saw plenty of changes in what was Unai Emery’s first season in charge.

We saw the constant switching between three and five at the back. We saw the first eleven tinkered with in order to find that special slice of chemistry. We saw our press activate and disengage within minutes.

All signs of a fledgling regime, but another change was very much up for questioning.

The decision to grant the captains armband to Laurent Koscielny, Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil was examined closely by all and sundry. With Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech missing out on chunks of the season through injury and selection reasons, it left three men leading the team out for the majority.

Granit Xhaka, love him or loath him, is one of the few who show true leadership qualities on the field and warranted the captaincy, and Aaron Ramsey’s association with the club was a lengthy one and he held the respect of his teammates.

Mesut Ozil perhaps was awarded the armband on occasion to give him the confidence he desired, a clear signal of intent that he was needed and had a specific role to play. Lead by example, show the others what they need to do.

Did the decision to split captaincy responsibilities work?

That depends who you ask, but it could be a work in progress.

What about next season though?

With both Cech and Ramsey both having left the club, it leaves three from last season who wore the armband.

When you take into consideration that official club captain Laurent Koscielny has gone on strike to engineer a move away from Arsenal?

That whittles it down to two.

Mesut Ozil is not a typical captain, but will command the respect from his comrades, but are there others who would be leaders and could help elevate performance with their own take on what captains should do on the pitch.

One candidate who has been spoken about at length is Hector Bellerin.

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The Spaniard has been with the club since 2013 and counts as a homegrown player. His affection for the club is evident through his social media activity and his desire on and off the pitch has driven him to great things.

Just look at how he took to Emery’s new regime at the start, before his horror injury. He was one of the standout performers, one that took his game to the next level. He was a massive threat up top, facilitating our attackers, and his defensive side had tightened considerably.

He could command the eleven and ensure instructions are carried out. He is the ideal middle man, a conduit between Emery and his men.

Bellerin is due to return from injury early in the season, and stands alone in regard to the right-back spot. Maitland-Niles did an admirable job last season filling in and has done his future at the club no harm whatsoever, but Bellerin will no doubt pick up where he left off.

Sokratis is another player who could lead the players, but in terms of style, it would be a more vocal approach from the Greek – and Bellerin has plenty of years in the tank yet to push his legacy at the club. Sokratis is more of a short-term fillip we need to hold our defence together.

Hector’s values align with our own, he is progressive and he wants the club to achieve – he cares. Isn’t that fundamentally what pushes all captains?

Bellerin is one of the few players who is intrinsically linked with the fibre of the club woven deep. He will wear the armband with pride and rightfully so. He will deserve it. Age is just  a number, Bellerin has earned the shot to lead the team out – and it could be a masterstroke.

Skipper On Our Shopping List

The summer transfer window may cure some ills for Arsenal, but at least one of our failings may well be carried over into next season.

It will require targeting from our recruitment team to rectify the situation, otherwise our next campaign we will still be bereft of a true captain.

Unai Emery changed much in his first season, and one of the myriad of variants he brought in to dispel the old era was to appoint five nominated skippers. All five brought a little something different to the table and perhaps combined, they made one true leader.

Mesut Ozil brought a true example to look up to for the younger players, and his ice-cool temperament is a skill that many could need.

Petr Cech is a born winner and has been victorious in every club competition he has entered.

Granit Xhaka is a motivator, rallying the troops vocally and attempting to rouse the warrior within them all.

Aaron Ramsey is the consummate professional and is the prime example of where hard work can take a young prospect as the Welshman is the purest evidence of this.

Then there is Laurent Koscielny. The Frenchman has been at Arsenal for eight years and has put his injury-ravaged body on the line every time he has put on the shirt. He is still probably our best defender at a tender 33 years of age and the squad look to him for a mixture of all of the above.

Next season is a different story though. At times we have missed a captain of the ilk of our previous luminaries. Players who can grab their teammates and the match itself by the scruff of the neck and change things.

Koscielny deserves the armband, but is he vocal enough? Does he have the right mixture of fear, adulation and respect?

Only the squad can answer that, but at times last season we looked a little rudderless, games slipping from our grasp because of our sloppiness, mistakes that could have been weeded out by a captain who makes sure everyone is accountable.

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When was the last time we had a skipper who gave the team that 5% that lifted them above the ignominy of another poor show?

Previously, we awarded the armband to our stars as a makeweight of sorts, another thing to add to the plate that is offered to a star that is looking at pastures new; “Instead of leaving, please stay, you can be the captain of the team.”

Patrick Vieira then, was probably the last time we had someone who was the embodiment of a captain, someone who naturally has an air that lends itself to turning heads, opening ears, inspiring performances.

Koscielny is the nearest we have to that in our squad. He never lets the side down, he gives his all. Those are mandatory for the captain, they need to show the level that is expected.

We may need to look for a player in the window that has the DNA strand that is true leadership though. With Koscielny on his last legs and Rambo no longer a Gooner, we are in more need than ever of a player to take the armband.

Our rivals have players of that ilk, or at least captains who can scream a player into playing a little better. Cesar Azpilicueta and Vincent Kompany especially are true leaders and give their sides that little extra when they struggle.

Now Raul Sanllehi and Emery must put someone on their shopping list that isn’t weighed down by the armband. Instead, they see it as an honour and use it to eke everything than can out of themselves and their comrades.

Who should be our Captain?

There has been plenty of talk surrounding our club of late – and for good reason.

The winds of change are sweeping around The Emirates, and Unai Emery’s appointment has sent the media into a froth over the inevitable variances that will occur after over two decades under one man’s stewardship.

One thing that hasn’t really come into focus is who will lead our men on the pitch.

The subject of our next skipper is an important one. The person who wears the armband next season will be the link between Emery in the dugout and the enacting of his demands.Not only this, but when it comes time to dig our heels in, the captain is the man who leads from the front.

Jack, Xhaka and Ramsey - who is our next captain?

Many think that Aaron Ramsey is the perfect candidate. The model professional who leads from the front, there is no denying he is the perfect example for our youth for triumph in the face of adversity, and never giving up.

Does the Welshman have the chops though? Many say that vocality is a dying trait when it comes to wearing the armband, and all that is needed is someone to lead from the front with their talents.

I would have to disagree. We have had those types of leaders before, back during the time when we dished out the armband as a lure to wantaway players – it didn’t work.

Captains need to have the ability to pick players up when they’re either having an abysmal game or if they’re making errors. They need to have that extra clout to be able to say what needs to be said, without recrimination. The players will listen because he is the leader, without fail.

If it isn’t Rambo though, who should it be? It isn’t as if we are stocked to the rafters with leaders – many people would say this is one of the many reasons we have struggled over previous seasons.

We have had a decent skipper recently though, but Mertesacker’s lack of minutes on the pitch undermined his strength. We need a player who will play the majority of our games.

Perhaps Granit Xhaka? Yes, his displays were erratic last campaign, but his will to win and his place in the team are strong. He seems to have the respect of his comrades and with a new man in charge, Xhaka could actually be played to his strengths rather than made to fit.

Other than these two players, we don’t have anyone who should shoulder this immense responsibility. Laurent Koscielny is a fantastic servant for the club, but leader he certainly isn’t. Plus, he is set to miss the first half of the season through injury. Nacho Monreal is the embodiment of consistency, but does he have what it takes to lead the team in difficult circumstances?

Then there is Jack Wilshere. His love for the club is undeniable, and we know he is certainly not lacking in making himself heard, but his future is uncertain – as well as his place in the team. If Jack stayed and picked up his game a little, then he would be a viable choice.

It would seem right now though, that it is a choice of two – and after last season and with a danger of Ramsey not signing a new deal, the Captains’ armband could well be the sweetener Rambo needs to commit his future.

Arsenal Calling Out For A Hero

Originally published on Goonersphere

There are many different approaches to obtaining success in football – and all of them at one time or another have proved that they can all lead to the same outcome.

There is the stoic approach from Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City last season, when they invited all and sundry to break the two rigid banks of four that imposingly stood in the way of their opponents.

There is the Pep Guardiola plan, in which they plan to keep possession of the ball and play around you. After all, you cannot be hurt when the opposition have not got the ball.

Let us not forget Jurgen Klopp’s ‘GegenPress’ model from Borussia Dortmund. It may not be ready for action at Anfield yet, but the idea of your team pressing all over the pitch and enforcing mistakes on your foe has reaped rewards.

Then there are two styles, two ideals, that stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. 

In one corner, you have Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, Chelsea and his Real Madrid. Jose likes to see his side utilise an effective press, but most of all, he expects his whole team to defend when under pressure. Who can forget his tirades directed toward Eden Hazard for his failure to track back? He wants a team effort in every manouevre, and that is an admirable trait, but not at the expense of one of the brightest attacking talents in Europe.

Jose is pragmatic. He realises that it is not how you play on the pitch that will last the test of time – it is trophies. It is winning and getting your team’s name inscribed onto these shiny memento’s. When Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2005, the majority will not remember that United completely dominated the game and Arsenal hardly posed a threat. The details will be lost to the slowly eroding powers of time. All that will remain is the record books, which clearly state Arsenal were FA Cup winners in 2005.

It is not pretty, and it wins few admirers, but Mourinho is perhaps the antithesis of Arsene Wenger, in everything from personality to ideals. 

We are all well aware of the Arsene Wenger way, and how highly he prizes aesthetics over grit. It has become even less diluted in recent years. In the glory years of 2002-2005, Arsenal had a potent cocktail of swagger and power. Fast forward over a decade, and while the skill and passing remain, the grit has been sadly ground down. 

Wenger’s teams need both to succeed. In the nine years which represented our trophy drought, our manager’s juggling of finances whilst maintaining a competitive side is vastly underrated and may rank among the highest of his achievements at the club. How many managers can say they took a team into the Champions League which contained the delights of Pascal Cygan and Mikael Silvestre?

We lost that combative style player in the process though. When Gilberto left the club, there was a few seasons when Arsenal could be steamrollered in the face of sheer physicality. The Sam Allardyce’s and Tony Pulis’s of the League saw this chink in the armour and optimised it as best they could. It hampered Arsenal for years, but surely now with the wealth of midfield options in our side – we now have the necessary crunch in our sandwich that we need?

Jose Mourinho may well have no regard for entertaining the crowd, but he seems to be well aware of the necessity for a midfield enforcer in his ranks. Currently at Old Trafford, much to the chagrin of the Red Devil faithful, he employs Marouane Fellaini in the holding role and when the big-haired Belgian isn’t playing, then the niggly Anders Herrerra takes the spot next to Paul Pobba who has free license on the pitch.

Antonio Conte at Chelsea employs two of this kind of player to sit in front of his defence in Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante and it has had a dramatic effect. 

Arsene Wenger acted to fill this void in our squad many seasons ago, and at this moment we have Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka who can fulfill this role. It isn’t merely a defensive midfielder we needed in our ranks – we needed leadership, an example to follow.

Coquelin, Xhaka and Elneny may be adept at grabbing the ball, but they are not who we should look to when the chips are down. When we are struggling and we need a verbal bashing, who rises to the fore? Who uses their words to pick the players up from their haunches?

In that respect, we have never replaced Patrick Vieira. The Captains armband has been bandied around to whomever was the insirational force on the pitch – not the natural leader. From Thierry Henry to Robin Van Persie, then Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta, these players did our shirt proud when they wore it, but they were not leaders of men.

At this juncture, we sit on a precipice. It is more vital than ever that our Captain provides a solid foundation in times of uncertainty. It is perhaps the most important task that our manager – whether it be Wenger or someone else – has in the summer. 

Next Season’s Captain?

This article was published in the Gooner Fanzine, which can be found outside The Emirates on matchday.

In any walk of life, no matter the capacity, a figure will emerge from the herd. This person, whether vocal or not, will be looked to when decisions are to be made. These figures, these leaders, are nominated by the rest of the pack for good reason.

When the rough seas broil and threaten to capsize the ship, then only the firmest hand should be on the tiller. When a difficult customer is haranguing, threatening and demanding action, then the Manager should be the most sage head in the building. When the rest of your team are pinned down by enemy paintballs and with no apparent means of escape, then it is the most proactive that gives hope.

All these qualities are necessary for a leader to warrant respect from their comrades. As a Gooner, we have had a recent past littered with token Skippers – those who have been chosen simply to lure these mercenaries away from the exit door. They wore the armband but subconsciously or not, their teammates knew of their impending departure. This in turn would lessen the impact any words that would be uttered by these want – away rogues. It was futile to give such an honour to a player who couldn’t give a jot for the club in the first place.

How could they effectively lead the team they care little for? Luckily enough, we have had an improvement in the armband stakes in the last few seasons. Not since Van Persie slithered his way to Manchester United have we had a captain who carries little to no weight when he spoke.

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Since his acrimonious departure, we have had Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker. We have had sporadic skippers, such as Laurent Koscielny, but these players above have been the majority. The Belgian roamer may have left, but there can be no doubt that these players were a vast improvement on the previous incumbents.

Whilst Cesc Fabregas may have been vocal and led well, his limited experience would be a hindrance. William Gallas had the experience and he always brought the noise, but being slightly unhinged was his undoing. Whilst Thierry Henry would only demand the best from his teammates, his style of leadership wasn’t for everyone.

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Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker both have excellent amounts of experience, they command respect from the dressing room to the pitch and they are vocal when the need arises. They both were the correct choice, but now time is running down on Mikel’s playing career, and Per Mertesacker – whilst he may have a few miles left in the tank – will more than likely be facing a battle for games next season.

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So who should our Skipper be next season?

Every league campaign is vital, but with Chelsea getting a new man at the helm, City having the golden boy of Management in Guardiola, and United looking at alternatives to the controversial and dreary Van Gaal – next season will be tougher than it ever has been. A Skipper to keep the troops in line and all singing from the same hymn sheet is the order of the day.

Seeing as Koscielny has already had a taste for it, shouldn’t he be the natural choice? What about Coquelin, as he is a talisman in the centre and isn’t shy about coming forward?

No. The answer lies in goal.

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Petr Cech is the natural successor and heir to the Captains Armband. Some will scoff at this and say that a true Captain cannot bark orders from goal, they cannot dictate in the manner that a true leader should. To this, I answer Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman. Both men could make themselves heard all the way to the opposite end of the pitch. The most important factor is that when they did shout, their teammates most definitely listened.

Petr Cech is already a spokesman of sorts. He has been the one who has offered the most succinct of soundbites when the chips were down this season. After drawing disappointingly against Southampton and losing ground in the title race, it was the giant Czech that came out to the media and gave Gooners hope.

His vast amount of experience can only be beneficial. He can organise from the back with aplomb after being coached by Jose Mourinho in the art of asphyxiation football. He can be who Arsenal needs in the dark times.

When the chips are down, you want a man who can pick up his men by the scruff of their neck and with a few choice words, have them ready to die for you in a moments notice. When Cech speaks, they all listen. When Cech speaks, WE all listen. His choice of words, despite it being his second language, is always sensible and well thought out.

If we were a goal up but facing Barcelona and had to keep them out through excellent organisation, then surely Cech would be the first choice?

The giant-handed, becapped Czech needs to be Arsenal’s skipper next season. He may have earned us upwards of ten points this season, but as Skipper – he could tip the scales in our favour.  Already making a difference, but with everyone looking to Cech for inspiration, our goalkeeper could do a lot more than keep clean sheets.