Wanted: A leader for Arsenal!
It’s been an accusation that has often been levelled at the North London club. As the game has progressed and morphed into its unrecognisable cousin of huge revenues and slick commercialism, the game’s leaders are seemingly in short supply.
There was a time when leaders were seemingly everywhere and every side had its own, but those days are becoming a distant memory.
There are still influential figures that can turn a game on its head and are seen as leaders by their contribution and performances such as Messi and Ronaldo, but I’m talking of those that could grab a game by the scruff of its neck and influence the team week in, week out.
A leader is one that takes charge on and off the pitch by moulding their colleagues into a force and by holding them accountable to maintain standards. Arsenal have had those types of players but not for a long time and the search for them has been almost timid and very much dependent on finances.
Arsenal, during the last throws of the Wenger era, were almost rudderless and under Unai Emery, the situation was tragically mismanaged by an honest man completely out of his depth. The biggest mistake of his short reign was his failure to keep Aaron Ramsey, who could have been that leader, but who may not have been in the side regularly enough due to the blight of injuries.
As I look at the current Arsenal side, I can’t see a leader anywhere apart from Mikel Arteta, someone who was probably the last to understand the role of captain and its importance. It’s not the captaincy alone that makes a leader, it needs to be a player who can make different individuals function as a cohesive unit, yet it still depends on the willingness and quality of those around them.
Arsenal have had the luxury of Frank McLintock, Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira, large characters with big reputations, but they were very much a breed that doesn’t exist these days.
Emery’s decision to cast his net and nominate five captains was simply absurd. Rarely have I seen or heard anything quite so ridiculous or pointless.
Captain and vice-captain yes, but five different individuals looking to implement a single way of playing or vision. It requires someone that can reach the individuals around them and encourage them to play in the way the coach wants by various methods.
Frank McLintock used to gee players up, even lie to extract performance. He once told Charlie George that the opposition’s manager didn’t rate him and George subsequently gave him a stellar performance that afternoon. It resulted in George approaching the offending manager after the final whistle to discuss his comments to his captain.
The manager never even mentioned George.
Tony Adams was more of a pat on the bum “you can do better” type of Captain or alternatively, a shouter and sometimes a bully.
Patrick Vieira was a figure that simply demanded a performance through his own set of standards and values. He often gave a disapproving or telling look to a player that he thought wasn’t giving his all. However, he wasn’t shy verbally either.
As I say, these were captains but leaders don’t always wear an armband, they can exert influence without it, like Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla did by making a difference when it mattered.
If Arsenal continues to ignore their obvious failures in key positions, you can expect more mediocrity. If nothing else, they need a strong enforcer, someone who pushes the side forward but one that will assume the responsibility of a defender/organiser when out of possession.
That’s not going to be cheap, but Arsenal have to stop worrying about balance sheets and start looking at competing or they can forget about the Premier League and Champions League for years to come. Mikel Arteta knows he has a void in his team. He has creativity but no steel in the spine and that will only be resolved when he gets his man, hopefully in the summer.
Arsenal are now trying to resolve the defensive issues that have been around for ten seasons or more, but the obvious problem of leadership needs solving when the season ends. This is not a slight on Aubameyang’s captaincy, his goals have been crucial but he is a world-class striker who scores important goals, not a leader.