Wild American Gooner

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Arsenal Roundup – Man City, Arteta, Vermaelen and More

With the triumph in the FA Community Shield against Manchester City yesterday (see player ratings from the match here) and with the Premier League season kicking off in under a week, there is an abundance of Arsenal news to discuss this morning.

Let’s start with yesterday. And what an awesome day it was. Anybody and everybody wants to point out that the FA Community Shield is only a preseason match, or that Manchester City wasn’t really trying. While both of those things might be true on some level, it was still meaningful that Arsenal won another trophy so convincingly. My favorite quote I’ve read comes from Arsene Wenger, who said, “If you lose it, they say you lost a trophy. If you win it, they say it’s only the Community Shield.”

But even if you don’t believe the trophy is meaningful in and of itself, consider this victory as important in other ways. For me, beating another top-4 side at the start of the season should boost Arsenal’s confidence levels tremendously. A year ago, when playing top opposition, Wenger’s men often played on the back foot, looking at times like they lacked belief. But yesterday’s result will bring that belief back into the squad. No team can win a title without believing. And no team will believe until it can beat the top sides. And Arsenal ran a top side off the field yesterday. It can only be a good thing.

On an individual level, lifting a trophy of any sort is good for morale in the dressing room. Winning not only will keep players around and attract new ones, but it will inspire those on the fringes of the team. Trophies boost the spirits of the entire squad, not just those on the field. And from yesterday’s game, a lot of players can be happy with how they played. The new boys especially should be pleased with how they fit directly into the team. That Calum Chambers was voted man of the match by the fans is a deserving welcome that should hopefully inspire him to continue on the way to great things.

And who doesn’t feel better about the team after yesterday? Chambers definitely looked like a player capable of playing center back, and playing it quite well at that. Even Nacho Monreal played well at that position in the second half. And in the midfield, Mikel Arteta’s performance should do a lot to alleviate any worries about the defensive midfield position. Going up against the power of the City midfield, Arteta held his ground, and distributed the ball as accurately as ever going forward. He may not be a flashy international, but he does the little things right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger leaves that position alone in the transfer market the rest of the way.

The biggest indication that Wenger has no desire to spend big on William Carvalho or Sami Khedira was given yesterday when Arteta was officially appointed Arsenal’s next captain after the match. Had Arteta not been a big part of Wenger’s plans going forward, he would not have made that choice. I’m sure nearly every Arsenal fan will have wanted a splashier choice for the captainship, be it Per Mertesacker or Aaron Ramsey, but none of us should be surprised at Arteta’s appointment. He is a thorough professional and a good leader on the field. He won’t be burdened by the job, and unlike many others, he doesn’t play internationally, meaning he spends more time around the club than almost anyone else. Arteta won’t be captain forever. But he’ll do the job admirably.

At vice captain, Mertesacker was the obvious choice. A year ago, he wore the band often, and I think that will happen again this year. He is a fantastic leader, and has the respect of everyone in the dressing room. Areteta has a terrific right hand man in Mertesacker.

I’ve yet to address the confirmed departure of Thomas Vermaelen. The now former Arsenal captain left this weekend for Barcelona on a £15m deal. This move was a long time coming, and it should satisfy all involved. Vermaelen gets a fresh start on his career and a chance to reestablish himself as a top class defender. Arsenal gets their wish of moving him abroad, and for a substantial fee at that. And Barcelona gets an experienced center back capable of playing their style.

There are no hard feelings on this one. Unlike the other high profile departures in recent years, Vermaelen stuck around even when it wasn’t in his best interest. He doesn’t leave for Barcelona seeking more money or more trophies. He goes seeking playing time. And we can’t fault him for that after he spent more than a full year quietly accepting his role behind Mertesacker and Koscielny. It can’t have been easy to have had to give pre-game captain’s notes every week knowing he wasn’t going to play, but Vermaelen was extremely professional throughout.

I really liked the Belgian. His marauding style of play was always fun to watch, and you could tell how much the games meant to him. When he scored a goal, he had an infectious smile. And his celebrations were always displays of pure joy. It was hard for me to watch him waste his career on the bench, and I’m glad he’s getting a chance elsewhere. My lasting Vermaelen memory won’t be of a defensive lapse or of him sitting on the pitch – it will be of him sprinting to the corner flag with the biggest grin on his face after scoring a 95th minute winner against Newcastle. Best of luck in Barcelona, Thomas.

Today also has brought the return of our World Cup winning trio to training. Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Özil were all smiles on their arrival this morning, and they while they are a ways off from being match fit, their presence at training is most welcome. It’s always nice to have winners around.

The Premier League season is so close I can feel it. While yesterday was great, it will be an even better feeling waking up on Saturday knowing there is an entire year of Arsenal ahead of us. I am full of cautious optimism right now. It is going to be a great season.






Who Should Be Arsenal’s Next Captain?

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


Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen Problem

Two summers ago, Thomas Vermaelen was heading towards being one of the world’s best defenders. Already a regular in Belgium’s side, one that seemed to have a golden generation arising, Vermaelen had locked down a place in Arsenal’s back four after some injury problems and was awarded the earned the Arsenal captaincy. But just twenty-two months later, Vermaelen has seen his career come to a crashing halt, both for club and for country. As he sat on the bench and watched his Belgian teammates struggle for much of their 2-1 win over Algeria today in the World Cup, Vermaelen had to be wondering where it all went wrong.

When Robin Van Persie left for Manchester United, Arsene Wenger didn’t have an obvious successor in his squad for the role of Arsenal captain. It’s a big job, as the player must take on added pressure both on and off the field as the official spokesman for the players. Wenger’s choice of Vermaelen seemed smart, if a little unexpected. A leader on the pitch, and a well-spoken gentleman off it, the Verminator  seemed well suited for the job.

But as the 2012-2013 season wore on, Vermaelen’s form took a serious dip. Having kept Laurent Koscielny out of the side for months, Vermaelen struggled to defend suddenly. His marauding runs up the field were unwanted, as they left the slower Per Mertesacker exposed behind him. Long known for timely goal-scoring, Vermaelen also stopped finding the net. So when Arsenal traveled to Bayern Munich for the second leg of the Champions League tie that year, it was no surprise to see the captain left on the bench along with goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after a series of poor performances. But while Szczesny won his job back after a few weeks, Vermaelen did not.

Last year was an awkward one for Vermaelen. Still the Arsenal captain, he rarely saw the field. He had some minor injury issues, but those weren’t the reason he wasn’t playing. And as he watched, the duo of Koscielny and Mertesacker were hailed as Arsenal’s best in years. While this was going on, Belgian coach Marc Wilmots dropped Vermaelen due to his lack of playing time, and on account of the quality in that side, Vermaelen hasn’t won his place back.

Thomas Vermaelen is now at a pivotal moment in his career. Still 28, he should be in the prime of his career. But after an  empty year, he needs a new start. This World Cup should make him realize that if he hasn’t already, because he could be a huge part of this dark-horse Belgian side were he in better form. However, Arsenal won’t let him go easily, because they need a third center-back in the squad, having lost the versatile Bacary Sagna to Manchester City. Needing a right-back, a forward and a winger, finding another center-back to replace Vermaelen is not a priority for Wenger, and until he finds cover, he shouldn’t let his captain go.

I’ve always admired Vermaelen for how he handled his being left out of the side. Knowing he wouldn’t play against Bayern, not many players would have been as professional as he was during his pre-match press conference that day. And last year, he hardly complained, doing his duties as captain while acting as one of Arsenal’s biggest cheerleaders. He got to lift the FA Cup last month as Arsenal’s captain, and you could see the joy in his face as he raised it. Clearly, he loves Arsenal, which is part of what made him such a great choice for the captaincy.

But for his sake, he needs a new start. I would hate to see this wonderfully talented player lose multiple years of his prime, and that is how it would be if he stays. Wenger should try and negotiate a swap-deal for another center-back to make his job easier in finding a necessary replacement, but he owes his captain a chance to see the field this year. If that’s not going to be at Arsenal, Wenger must let him find somewhere else to play. Ideally, he wouldn’t join a rival, and Wenger shouldn’t let him do that. But if Vermaelen wants a new start, he should get one.

What do you think of the Arsenal captain? Please comment below.