Lacazette is out of contract next year, Xhaka has already lost the armband once, Tierney and Holding don’t play every week while Odegaard and Ramsdale have only just joined… why Arteta CAN’T WIN as he ponders his next Arsenal captain
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sacked as Arsenal captain earlier this week
- The 32-year-old committed another disciplinary breach which led to his sacking
- Mikel Arteta has leant on his ‘leadership group’ while he looks for a new skipper
- Sportsmail identifies the contenders for the Gunners’ next club captain
The role of Arsenal captain should be one of the biggest honours in football, following in the footsteps of icons such as Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.
But in recent years, that position has been anything but lucrative. If anything, it has been a curse.
Following Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s sacking as Gunners skipper due to several breaches of disciplinary rules over the past nine months, current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has to pick who his next leader will be.
Mikel Arteta (right) needs to pick a new Arsenal club captain after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (left) was sacked as skipper this week
Arteta has resorted to a ‘leadership group’ for now – but who could be the next first-choice skipper?
The difficulty in making that call is summed up by the fact that Arteta has resorted to a ‘leadership group’ of several players for now, instead of picking an immediate successor to Aubameyang.
To put it simply: at the moment there is no standout leader at Arsenal, which is rather telling when trying to pinpoint why the club has underachieved in recent years.
So where does Arteta do from here? Stability at Arsenal is key for the Spaniard right now, who is facing questions about his own status at the Emirates Stadium following inconsistent results in recent weeks.
Sportsmail looks at the contenders for Arsenal’s next club captain, based on the current leadership group there is in the red half of north London…
The current first-choice option for Arteta as next Arsenal captain is striker Alexandre Lacazette, who wore the armband for the Gunners’ last match against Southampton and will do so again for Wednesday night’s visit of West Ham.
The French forward is unofficially known as Arsenal’s ‘vice-captain’ given the fact he wears the armband when Aubameyang is not on the pitch – mainly due to the 30-year-old’s status as the elder statesman in this young Gunners squad.
Alexandre Lacazette will captain Arsenal for Wednesday’s Premier League visit of West Ham
Lacazette’s passion for Arsenal is clear to see through his goal celebrations, even when it is his team-mate who has found the net instead of him.
But there are major doubts about the Frenchman’s future in north London, with the striker’s contract ending at the end of the season. The striker could negotiate a pre-contract agreement with a new team from next month, which is not exactly captaincy material.
Lacazette is currently Arsenal’s main striker up front following Aubameyang’s current exile from the team but there is no indication that the 30-year-old is the long-term option as the Gunners’ No 9.
Lacazette (second right) is a guaranteed starter and is clearly passionate about the club
While the Frenchman found the net against Southampton at the weekend while wearing the captain’s armband, he had failed to score in each of his last seven league games – and there would be no surprise if Arsenal found a new forward for next season.
Lacazette could be handed a new contract at Arsenal which could increase his chances of keeping the armband long-term. But even if he does get a new deal, the chances of him leading the line next term would be slim.
There was a time when Granit Xhaka would have been the last option to become Arsenal captain.
The Swiss midfielder was appointed club captain by Unai Emery at the start of the 2019-20 season when Laurent Koscielny went on strike to seal a move back to France, but Xhaka’s time as skipper lasted less than half a season.
Granit Xhaka has history with the Arsenal captaincy but has been stripped of the role before
A toxic row with his own supporters sparked the end of his captaincy. When Xhaka was taken off against Crystal Palace in October 2019, Arsenal fans ironically jeered his withdrawal which led to the midfielder telling supporters to ‘f*** off’.
Xhaka waved his hands with even more irony, asking for more boos, before storming down the tunnel in anger. Emery took the captaincy off Xhaka and handed it to Aubameyang after the incident. Arsenal fans were left offended by their own skipper.
Many thought that was the end of the midfielder’s time at Arsenal but Emery’s successor Arteta told Xhaka to stay at the club when the midfielder was in talks with Hertha Berlin over a swift exit away from north London.
Xhaka has not only earned his place back in Arteta’s first-choice side but has also been given the armband from time to time.
Xhaka fell out with the Arsenal fans while he was skipper during an on-pitch row in 2019
Arteta – like Emery and Arsene Wenger before him – sees Xhaka as a key player and leader in the dressing room, while the 29-year-old has been handed his country’s captaincy since he was stripped of his Arsenal one.
Arteta told Tuesday’s press conference after Aubameyang’s sacking: ‘Granit is one of the captains and he’s part of the leadership group and is a really important players for us.’
But can Arsenal fans forget what happened before? Xhaka was also strongly linked with a move to Roma over the summer – is the Swiss midfielder really in Arteta’s captaincy plans?
A move that would be popular among the Arsenal fans is Scottish full-back Kieran Tierney, who has earned a cult hero status in north London after just over two years at the Emirates.
Whether it be his passion on the pitch, his refusal to wear anything other than short sleeves and shorts in the cold weather or the fact he has never lost a cup final in his career – the full-back would unite the Arsenal fanbase as the club’s next captain.
Kieran Tierney’s passion makes him a popular pick for Arsenal captain in the Gunners fanbase
Arteta has given the 24-year-old a lot of responsibility at Arsenal. It was the left-back who gave the Arsenal boss the idea to take their pre-season tour to his native Scotland – and Arteta has even named him individually as a future Gunners captain.
‘He is a natural leader,’ said Arteta in January this year. ‘I think he can be Arsenal captain as he has the respect and admiration of every member of the staff and every player.
‘It is just the way he is. He does it in a natural way. He is a really shy boy as well, but he represents all of us in the club. All of the values that we want to instil and are in the DNA in this club.
‘He is shy and so humble. He came here and it took him a while. You see how he behaves on the pitch and when he talks he says the right thing.
Arteta (right) has handed Tierney (left) a lot of responsibility in this current Arsenal squad
But Tierney (second right) has injury issues so he may not feature every week for the club
‘And he is exactly what we are looking for and I am so happy to have him in the team.’
Yet one factor that will let Tierney down is his injury record. The Scottish international was limited to just 15 league matches in his first season and while his game time improved last term, he still missed 11 Premier League games.
Arsenal have had injured captains before in the form of Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen – and while absentee leaders are not ideal, the club still won trophies and finished in the top-four with those players wearing the armband.
Like Xhaka, Martin Odegaard is also well-qualified for the captaincy role given he wears the armband for the Norway national team.
The 22-year-old has been at Arsenal for just less than a calendar year, but is now starting to settle into life in north London following his initial loan spell, then his £30million permanent move from Real Madrid.
Odegaard has certainly stepped up for the Gunners in recent weeks while Aubameyang has been either out of form or in disciplinary exile. The midfielder has scored in each of his last three games and is now central to Arteta’s plans.
Martin Odegaard captains the Norway national team and is a loud on-pitch voice for Arsenal
The Norwegian is also key to Arsenal’s pressing game and is regularly seen waving his hands around encouraging his players to get up the pitch. Arteta has noticed the responsibility Odegaard is willing to take and sees him as a leader in the group.
Asked about Odegaard’s leadership credentials earlier this season, Arteta said: ‘Martin has this capacity to do that with his talent, taking the ball in moments where others probably refuse to, but as well with his attitude, his rhythm and the way he presses and puts people under pressure.’
Though could Arteta really get away with handing the captain’s armband to such a new player in the dressing room?
William Gallas was handed the armband within a year of joining Arsenal – and look how that turned out…
Odegaard has stepped up for the Gunners in recent weeks with three goals in three matches
Captains are normally the first name on the teamsheet, and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale is quite literally that man for Arsenal right now.
The shot stopper is right up there as one of the most popular members among the fans in this Arsenal team, mainly due to his excellent performances and jaw-dropping saves so far this season.
Ramsdale also has an excellent relationship with the fans as well, with the goalkeeper regularly interacting with Gunners fans during games. His knee slide in front of the fans for Arsenal’s first goal against Southampton on Saturday was an example of that.
Aaron Ramsdale is quite literally the first name on the teamsheet for Arsenal at the moment
Arteta recognised Ramsdale had the credentials to become a leader even before he made the £30m switch from Sheffield United in the summer.
Speaking about Ramsdale’s arrival earlier this season, Arteta said: ‘Obviously we needed to identify where we can get better and what we were missing or how we want to mould our experience and our leadership.
‘And that is all obviously about personalities and the people you bring into the club, and we thought that Aaron could be very beneficial.
Arteta (left) recognised Ramsdale’s (middle) leadership skills when trying to sign him this year
‘Aaron is capable of transmitting that in a natural way. His competitiveness as well, on the pitch, brings the crowd to a different level, because of his desire to win. This is the mentality that we need.’
But not only are there doubts about whether goalkeepers, so far from the action for most of the game, can be effective captains, but Ramsdale is also a new player like Odegaard.
What does it say about the rest of the squad if a new player walks into the dressing room and immediately becomes skipper?
The other core member of Arsenal’s leadership group is a surprising one in centre-back Rob Holding, who was indeed the last player to wear the captain’s armband for Arsenal before Aubameyang’s sacking last week.
Lacazette passed the skipper role over to the centre-back for the final few moments of Arsenal’s win over Southampton last week, in the latest sign that Holding is a respected member in the Gunners dressing room.
Rob Holding (left) is another key voice in the Arsenal leadership group at the moment
Holding was made one of the five Arsenal captains when Emery was in charge of the Gunners and Arteta has kept the defender, who recently celebrated five years at the club, as part of the leadership group.
‘We value him very much and I think now people understand the importance that he has on the team and at the club,’ Arteta said in February of this year.
‘I think he is happy at the club as well, so it is a good thing. I think his leadership has improved so much because he feels a very important part of the team.
‘He is very respected, because he has earned that respect with the way he is as a human being, how much he looks after the other people and after how he is performing. It is a natural evolution for him and I am really happy with the way he’s performing.
Holding’s issue in terms of captaincy credentials is that he is not first-choice as a centre-back
‘It is about him and how hard he works, how much he is all the time willing to learn, how humble he is. Even when things are going really well for him, he wants to get better.’
There’s only one problem with Holding – he’s not a first-choice option for the Gunners and has not played 90 minutes in any competition since September.
The centre-back is firmly behind Ben White and Gabriel in the Gunners centre-back pecking order and with William Saliba set to play a part for Arsenal from next season, Holding may not even be at the club from next term.
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