With the exit rumors of current club captain Thomas Vermaelen heating up by the day, and with a mysterious injury keeping him from training, it seems inevitable that Arsenal will be looking for a new skipper soon. It’s entirely understandable that Vermaelen wants out (I wrote about that a little ways back here), but it’s also understandable that Arsene Wenger wants to keep him around as cover until a replacement comes in. The situation is not ideal.
I get that it’s been a bit of an embarrasment to hold the captaincy while on the bench, but Vermaelen owes the club one last duty as captain of the famous club. He needs to be at training right now so that he can be there as cover for Per Metesacker who has still yet to return from his post-World Cup holiday. There hasn’t been much said about how serious Vermaelen’s injury is, but as the club captain, he should at least be around the club right now, either on the pitch or as a spokesman. His absence when he is still needed signals the need for his removal from the captaincy.
However, I feel it would be unfair to strip him of his captaincy while he still is an Arsenal player, as up until this summer, he handled the ignominious demotion extraordinarily well over the last eighteen months. He could have spoken out against Wenger publicly, he could have demanded a transfer, and he could have thrown the dressing room into shambles. But instead, he put his club above himself, and said and did all of the right things while he was on the bench. It could not have been easy. So were Arsenal to hand the captaincy to someone else while Vermaelen still was on the roster, it would be an unnecessary slap in the face to the Belgian. And Arsenal is too classy for that.
At this point, the only solution is to wait out Vermaelen’s exit before naming a new captain. There might be a game or two when Mikel Arteta will have to lead out the side before he officially leaves, and there might even be a final appearance by Vermaelen himself should he regain his fitness, but it’s the right course of action. By the end of August, the Belgian will be gone, and Arsenal will be able to turn the page.
That then begs the question of who the next Arsenal captain should be. In my mind, there are three obvious candidates and a handful of other players who could be surprise picks to wear the band. But this is not a choice to be made lightly, as the club will have seen its last three captains leave the club in recent years on less than ideal terms. In my opinion, Wenger needs to pick a player who can hold the captaincy for years to come.
For me, that should rule out 32 year old Mikel Arteta from the running. However, due to his current status as vice-captain, he would seem in many ways to be the most logical choice. Arteta is the prototypical Wenger player – a pass-first midfielder converted to a deeper role – and is clearly a favorite of the boss. But given his age and Arsenal’s desire to replace him with a younger, more natural defensive midfielder, Arteta might find himself in a similar situation to Vermaelen in a year’s time. I don’t think anybody wants a repeat of that. So the only way I would give Arteta the captaincy is if Wenger thinks his obvious choice is eyeing a younger player for the job but doesn’t think that player is quite ready for the responsibility.
The next option would be Per Mertesacker, the current number three as captain. The big German defender has been Wenger’s deputy in the dressing room since his arrival, a player who goes around to collect any fines. Were he not held in high esteem by his teammates, that duty would be impossible. He also holds authority on the pitch as a vocal presence in the back. And when things go south, Mertesacker has his head in the right place – think back to when he chastised Mesut Özil for not acknowledging the traveling fans at Manchester City after the painful 6-3 loss. Few have the respect necessary to be able to do that. Seemingly as Arsenal’s first choice center back for years to come, the big German would be a great choice as captain. His vocal leadership style would harken back to the older Arsenal captains, and everyone would be better for it.
The third, more complicated option would be to give the band to Aaron Ramsey. While he is only 23 years old, he has already been captain of the Welsh national team for a short period, and he clearly has the leadership abilities necessary to do the job. Ramsey is indisputably Arsenal’s most indispensable player at the moment, having grown tremendously as a player in the last year. Handing him the captaincy would be a gesture to acknowledge that importance, and it would be something that might keep him from wanting to leave the club anytime soon.
While he wouldn’t be the vocal leader that Mertesacker would be, Ramsey could be of the Cesc Fabregas mold as captain, a role he’d surely grow into with time. Having given him the band in preseason, Wenger has realized the Welshman’s importance to the club, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him leading the team out permanently. And I must say, his new beard makes him look regal enough for the job. The only hesitancy is that Ramsey struggled with the burden when he took over the job for Wales, but he was much younger then, and had to deal with the death of his coach Gary Speed at the time. It was a big ask for Ramsey at the time, and while he handled everything admirably, it clearly weighed on him on the field.
Beyond those three, there are a couple of other decent options. While I don’t think Wenger will choose Tomas Rosicky, I think it would be a terrific choice, if only for the short term. Rosicky is Arsenal, and he does everything right on the field. He is a terrific example for all the young players at the club, and giving him the captaincy would be the ultimate sign of respect for the veteran Czech midfielder. He probably doesn’t play often enough to merit the job, but nonetheless, he’d be a great choice. The other option is Jack Wilshere. For years now, he has been mooted as a future Arsenal captain. But his immaturity off the pitch and recent struggles on it suggest he is not ready for the job. If Wenger wants Wilshere to be captain, that’s where I think he should go with Arteta for now, so that he can give the young Englishman some more time to mature. Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Flamini and even Mesut Özil could all be options as well.
When Vermaelen’s exit is confirmed, Wenger will have a tough choice to make. But he has a lot of solid options on a team that has found a nice mix of personalities in the dressing room. Personally, I would like to see Mertesacker or Ramsey take over the captaincy. If I had to guess, I would think Wenger will go with Mertesacker, but you never know. And as far as vice-captain, it would be awfully harsh to take that away from Arteta should he not be selected for the bigger role.
Who would you like to see as Arsenal’s next captain? Please comment below