Tag Archives: captain

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.

Xhaka Capt

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.

arsenalcaptainarmband1705

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. 

Arsenal, Leicester & the much-fabled ‘Mental Strength.’

Originally published in the Gooner fanzine – pick yours up outside the Emirates on matchday.

Leicester City’s fairytale lifting of the Premiership crown is well documented – and for good reason.

The season prior to this miraculous feat saw the same side escape the maw of relegation only by a late Herculean effort. 

To then transform themselves into a title-winning team indicates that it was down to belief and the fiercest of winning mentalities. 

This season has seen that burning desire which fuelled their glory run extinguished, and the men who performed well above their station have since returned to their natural level.

These are the same players, and yet the champions are stark in their contrast to the previous year. How can eleven men appear to be unbeatable on the pitch, and then revert back to type in such a short space of time?

It can only be their mentality which changed them. 

Three losses from thirty eight games. Jamie Vardy bagging twenty four goals, and Riyad Mahrez grabbing seventeen. A Stoke City reject and a journeyman from the lower leagues comprising an unbreakable central defensive partnership.

Where did these players summon this superhuman feat from? Their rise from abject, to sublime and then back to abject again, is a tale of motivation and of mental strength in the face of adversity. 

There were mitigating factors of course. No fixture congestion, no European commitments and they escaped unscathed in terms of injury to key personnel. 

A 38-game season does not lie though. All the top teams had ample opportunity to overcome the Foxes. They just couldn’t rise to the occasion and were bested.

On paper, Arsenal’s team is head and shoulders above the current champions. From goalkeeper to attack, we have the edge in terms of talent. So why did Leicester lift the title and not us?

Is Kasper Schmeichel a better goalkeeper than Petr Cech? Of course not, but what helped the Dane repel attack after attack was the proverbial wind beneath his wings. He believed that the team he played for could achieve something. He and his teammates believed it so much, they were unwilling to budge in the face of adversity and even reality. 

Take the story of Danny Drinkwater. The English midfielder was sent on loan to the likes of Huddersfield and Barnsley whilst on the books at Manchester United. He failed to make the grade and Championship side Leicester snapped him up. His performances alongside N’Golo Kante were a revelation in 2015-16 and he earned international recognition thanks to his displays. 

In essence though, he is a workhorse and nothing more. He was buoyed by those around him and his above-average stamina saw him run around every blade of grass to great effect. Does he deserve to stand above Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere? Not in terms of talent, but with his Premier League medal he can always say he is a champion. Ramsey and Jack cannot.

The missing ingredient which the Gunners have sorely lacked is that determination and belief. When Ranieri’s men went a goal down, there were no slumped shoulders or disconcerted gesticulating. They continued with a formulaic gameplan which played to their strengths and most fundamentally of all – they never gave up. 

They believed that they would get something from every game. 

We have seen, in our losses to Chelsea and Bayern especially, the winning spirit sap visibly from our players when a setback occurs. Is it due to the lack of a vociferous leader on the pitch? Is it a lack of effort? All of these assets were in Leicester’s team.

Whose job is it to instill this mental framework into the players? Is it down to Wenger? He has trotted out the ‘mentally jaded’ phrase so many times after disappointment, that it leaves you wondering what the players are doing in their downtime. Is it a day crammed with super-tough sudoku?

Surely the players must step up to the precipice and be counted? Wenger has numerous failings, but once his charges cross the white line on the turf, there is little much else he can do to change events. The players need the hunger for success. They cannot be allowed to be sated by currency and an assured position in the team. If they are, then they either need a firm reminder or be shown the exit door. 

Leicester’s fire in their bellies has gone, and they now sit in an eerily similar position to before they became champions. 

Arsenal without the spirit and drive will always come up short when challenges require it. 

Talent is useless without it. 

Tony Adams Is 50 – Our Captain’s Finest Moments

Posted on Goonersphere

The 10th of October 1966 was a special day for Gooners of all ages. Not because of a significant victory or event that Arsenal had – but because it was the day that Tony Adams was born.

Who knew that on this joyous day, the child that was born in Romford would go on to become what many perceive as Arsenal’s finest leader in their illustrious history. 

Fired by his incredible will to win and defensive nous, Adams would break into the Arsenal first team in his late teens, and stay at the club which gave him his chance for his entire career. A one-club player is a rarity in the modern game, but the bonds which tied him to Highbury were unbreakable.

Making his first team bow in 1983, and then retiring in 2002, gave Adams 19 years at the club to forge a career which no one could possibly forget. His much-told battle with alcoholism intertwines with his first 15 years, but much like all the opponents he faced – he eventually defeated the demon drink too.

So, in all those years, and hundreds of games he played, what would be his finest moment? How can anyone possibly choose what is he brightest light amongst many? Adams played, and led, in many historic Arsenal matches, so to select a chosen few is beyond difficult. 

The glaring omissions are not an admission that they aren’t on a par with the ones I have selected. Just that there are far too many to mention. 

So, let me take you on a tour of Captain Fantastic’s amazing moments. Please buckle your seatbelt and keep your arms inside the ride at all times. The Mr Arsenal show is about to begin….

Anfield. 26th May 1989.





























Tony Adams skippered the Arsenal side which had no realistic hope of snatching the title away from dominant Liverpool. Arsenal had kept pace with the Scousers all season, however, Liverpool had a fine pedigree and the week previously had lifted the FA Cup. They were hoping to complete their second double, and the media and majority of fans thought that the Gunners didn’t have a hope of winning at Anfield  – never mind by two clear goals.

Someone never told George Graham and his boys though. The first half went according to plan for Graham- keep it tight, don’t concede. The second half saw Alan smith glance in a Nigel Winterburn set-piece and grab a precious goal, but they still had to snatch another to claim a ninth First Division title.

With mere minutes to go, the image of McMahon holding up a single digit to the rest of his teammates to signify that they had to hold out for one more minute to be champions again is burned into the memory of Gooners. Then, history was made.

Lukic throws out to Dixon. Dixon plays a ball to Smith, who heads onwards for an onrushing Thomas to ride a challenge into the box and slot past Grobbelaar. 

Sweet ecstasy. For some, it is a high that will never again be reached. What is clear though, is that for this titanic effort to have been made, the role of Skipper would never have been more important. Tony Adams led from the front, kept Aldridge, Rush and Beardsley quiet, and instilled in his men the belief that he held inside himself. 

Unforgettable.


1990/91

This could be perceived as Tony’s darkest season, as he missed eight games through his incarceration at HMP. His leadership was so unequivocal, so influential however, that even in his absence his teammates drew strength from him and his wishes. 

The team only lost once all season, and blew away the rest of their opposition as they won the title for the second time in three years. Not only this, but the rock-solid back5 was now complete and conceded only 18 goals. As a captain and as a defender, Adams was top of the pile.

Copenhagen, 1994. ECWC Vs Parma

Another game which Arsenal had no right to win, but this game was the archetypal performance from the famous Back5. Parma were studded with stars, and were widely expected to win back to back Cup Winners Cups. 

Arsenal’s back 5 though, were superb throughout, and nulified Zola, Brolin and Asprilla with tactics, physicality and anticipation. If there was one match to show someone who wanted to know about the finest defence that has ever existed in the UK, then this match would be what you show them. Absolute perfection from Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn.

Arsenal 4-0 Everton, 1998.

Still in recovery from alcoholism, and benefitting from Arsene Wenger’s new fangled nutrition tips and fitness aids, Adams was a new man. The team had overhauled a sizeable Manchester United lead at the top of the table and all that was left was to defeat Everton at Highbury to win their first title since 1991.

Adams was still captain, and the sight of him marauding forward to collect a lofted Bould pass still promotes goosebumps. He flicked the ball down with his chest, before depositing a thumping, left-footed volley past Thomas Myhre. 

Adams, whilst skilled in defending, was not known for such finesse, but as he celebrated in a beam of sinshine with his arms out wide, the goal signified a transformation. He had shed his demons, he was just bathing in the enjoyment of it all. My personal favourite.

There are many other memories that still resonate. His winner in the FA Cup in 1993 vs Spurs to exact revenge for the 1991 defeat. Holding the 2002 Premiership aloft.Winning the Cup double in 1993.

It isn’t only the silverware which makes his career a perfect example of how to beat adversity and achieve sporting immortality. Every game he played, every time he led his men, he gave everything to the cause. It showed in every tackle and airborne challenge he made. 

The fact he was so dedicated, and stayed with us for his entire career, means that we should never forget about our Captain. 

Happy Birthday Mr Arsenal.