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The Candidates In The Race To Be Arsenal's Next Captain - And Who Should Get The Role

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The Candidates In The Race To Be Arsenal's Next Captain - And Who Should Get The Role

Who comes to mind when you think of Arsenal captains?

Is it the dedicated Pat Rice, the Fiery Tony Adams, the opulent Patrick Vieira, the skillful Fabregas or even the authoritative Mikel Arteta

In recent times, the arm-band seems to have been a sort of curse on Arsenal players. Since the exit of Per Mertesacker in 2018, Arsenal have had five different captains. Laurent Koscielney, Granit Xhaka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette

Where have the captains gone?

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None of these players ever truly made their mark as captain of Arsenal football club, a position which should be revered and valued. 

Koscielny seemed a perfect fit for the role before his bitter departure, blaming the club (not wrongly) for rushing him back from injury, which would eventually rule him out of the 2018 world cup. 

Granit Xhaka took the role and seemed to be a real leader in the dressing room. But his outburst against Crystal Palace after he was booed by fans brought that to an end. 

Aubameyang and Lacazette held the role of captain next. Whilst they are both extremely likeable players, it felt that neither truly made their mark on the position. Aubameyang lifted a trophy as Arsenal captain but his eventual falling out with Mikel Arteta which saw the Gabonese international stripped of the role. 

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Alex Lacazette seems to have been a fantastic leader and mentor off the pitch, sadly for him his performances never quite merited the captain a place in the starting eleven.

Now, with the exit of Lacazette, Arsenal are once again, without a captain. 

Before we take a look at who could replace him, there is something worth mentioning about the role of captain. 

Perhaps football has simply moved on past the true leaders of old. Yes, players with extreme leadership qualities do exist and are a valuable asset, but with the game now being analysed to its extreme, the best captain may instead be deemed the player who can be the best tactical mind on the pitch.

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Martin Ødegaard

Martin Odegaard captained the side towards the end of last season
Martin Odegaard captained the side towards the end of last season

Martin Ødegaard has been extremely impressive in his first full season with Arsenal and is the front-runner to take over as captain. Seven goals and four assists doesn’t sound amazing, but they don’t tell the true story. 

The Norwegian is the player who really gets Arsenal ticking. If you watch any Arsenal game he is at the centre of almost everything that goes well. Whether it’s just a clever pass to set up a move or a glossy piece of interchange with Bukayo Saka, he has been a joy to watch. 

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In captaincy terms, Ødegaard is not the loudest leader, but what he offers is an impressive tactical nouse for a 23 year old.

Prior to taking the armband towards the end of the season, Ødegaard had noticeably been directing Arsenal’s play. During the match against Manchester City at the Emirates, which Arsenal would dramatically lose 2-1, Ødegaard was constantly directing the game and being in conversation with Albert Stuivenberg who was standing in for Arteta. 

An even clearer example of his tactical leadership came during Arsenal’s 4-2 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Gunners started the game in a three at the back formation, but Mikel Arteta trusted Martin Ødegaard’s assessment of the match, and switched to a four at the back formation.

This goes back to the point that Arsenal captain may no longer be about who is the best leader, but who can help the team execute a game plan and who reads the game best. Martin Ødegaard is certainly that player. 

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Granit Xhaka

Xhaka has been a polarising figure but is one of Arsenal's more senior players
Xhaka has been a polarising figure but is one of Arsenal's more senior players

When Granit Xhaka stormed off the pitch to jeers from the Emirates in 2019, many thought it would be the end of his Arsenal career. It turned out to just be the end of his captaincy. 

Miraculously, Xhaka has seemingly rebuilt his career at Arsenal and even his connection with the fan base. It has not been an easy ride. There have been many moments in that time that will have Arsenal fans tearing their hair out. A red card against Liverpool this season for a ridiculous tackle springs to mind. Throughout these frustrations, Xhaka has been trusted by Mikel Arteta, probably because he is one of the best tactical minds in the squad as well as showing some leadership qualities.

Xhaka has also had some superb moments. His winner against Manchester United, a lightning bolt from outside the box, followed by a kiss to the Emirates felt like a moment of vindication. 

The Swiss international has even admitted he would be open to returning as Arsenal skipper: "I will never say never," he told Sky Sports

Had Xhaka not had that incident in 2019, you think he would be a shoe-in for captain. However, it feels like there may be better alternatives who don’t have the same baggage. 

Rob Holding

Holding isn't first choice at Arsenal but remains a leader at the club
Holding isn't first choice at Arsenal but remains a leader at the club

There is something quite old-school about Rob Holding. Something about his attitude to the game. 

This season, he did not complain when he had limited minutes, but showed real courage to come on in the dying embers to see out games, getting under any header possible. Ultimately this season will be remembered for his unfortunate red card vs Tottenham Hotspur, which is a shame for a player who does deserve credit for his attitude. 

In many ways Holding acts with real leadership by keeping his lead down and leading by example.

Whilst it doesn’t seem that Holding is in with a real shout of being Arsenal captain, having him around is valuable. He has been in the so called ‘leadership group’ for several seasons now, and with the Europa League increasing the number of Arsenal’s games this season I think we will certainly see Holding with the armband.

Kieran Tierney 

Tierney has been a fan favourite since joining the Gunners
Tierney has been a fan favourite since joining the Gunners

Kieran Tierney embodies everything that is right about Arsenal Football Club. He plays with a fantastic combination of speed and skill, as well as a never say die work ethic. In many ways he is as close to as Tony Adams type leader as Arsenal have in their squad. 

There have been countless times where Tierney has been Arsenal’s star player. This season has been quieter for the Scot, as the attacking burden on him was lessened from previous years. 

Some people even wrote off Tierney, but look at how badly he was missed during the run-in. Whilst it is a painful hypothetical, there is a case to be made that if Arsenal had Tierney and Partey for the last five games, they could well have made the top four. 

That is Tierney’s main barrier to the captaincy. Injuries. He has all the right qualities, but Mikel Arteta may be reluctant to appoint a captain who is not always going to be on the pitch, and with Tierney’s current injury record, he sadly can not be relied upon to play a full season. 

Whilst the role of a captain may have changed, Arsenal should invest in their next skipper. Tony Adams was made captain aged only 21, and Arsenal should give the role to one of their younger players to hold for a significant period of time. Whoever this may be, they should be allowed time and space to make that position their own. 

Arsenal can not and should not have another five captains in four years. 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Arsenal, Mikel Arteta, Kieran Tierney, Martin Odegaard, Granit Xhaka

Robbie Hawken
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