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Five captains but not a leader among them — Arsenal’s most persistent problem continues

To paraphrase Peep Show: Five captains, Unai? Five? That’s insane.

Unai Emery is set to announce the five Arsenal players who will make up his captaincy group for this season.

Before we get into the negatives, a couple of points in defence of the Gunners’ gaffer.

Why stop at five, why not eleven?

AFP or licensors
Why stop at five, why not eleven?

Firstly, the five skippers will not be of equal authority.

Despite the wording, there will be a captain, a vice-captain, a third captain, and so on.

The vice will only wear the armband when the chosen captain is not on the pitch and the subsequent captains will only wear it if their superiors aren’t in action.

In this sense, Arsenal will function like every other Premier League club.

So what’s the big deal? We’ll get into that in a minute…

One fewer than Emery prefers

One fewer than Emery prefers

Secondly, this is a relatively common occurrence in Emery’s homeland of Spain.

For example, Barcelona name four captains at the start of every season.

Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto are the privileged quartet for 2019/20, in that order.

While it’s understandable Emery has elected for a five-captain election, perhaps he would have been better served to abide by English tradition.

For all their strengths, Arsenal have glaring weaknesses, the primary one being a lack of leadership.

If only…

AFP - Getty
If only…

Successful Arsenal sides of the past were driven by Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira — two of the most iconic captains in Premier League history.

The Gunners haven’t had a talismanic skipper since Cesc Fabregas and that was nearly a decade ago.

Mikel Arteta was a dignified statesman but he wasn’t one to grab a game by the scruff of the neck or dish out a necessary b*llocking.

A captain’s captain

PA:Empics Sport
A captain’s captain

Many would argue Arsenal’s most persist problem is their porous defence but the problems go hand-in-hand.

They have not been short of capable individuals in defence, despite what some would have you think.

Their problem has been a lack of leadership and organisation at the back.

In terms of ability, Laurent Koscielny was one of the Premier League’s best defenders for years but he didn’t radiate authority.

His injury problems meant he often limped out of games and his unceremonious exit (in which he effectively held the club hostage) was evidence of a personality not suited to lead a club of Arsenal’s stature.

The club have too often been undone after being rattled by opportunistic opponents.

A good captain would negate that through performance,  instructions and motivation.

Koscielny had the attributes of a great defender but when the ship started to wobble he would often jump overboard with the rest of them.



The issue with Emery announcing five captains is it highlights a hindrance the club have had for years, potentially compounding the problem.

Giving five of your starting eleven seniority over the other six has the potential to disrupt the dressing room.

This is less of a problem for Barcelona as their primary captain is clearly defined and has the ultimate respect of his peers.

Can the same be said of Granit Xhaka or David Luiz?

Xhaka is expected to be one of Emery’s five captains

Getty - Contributor
Xhaka is expected to be one of Emery’s five captains

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette lead by example in terms of on-field performance but forwards don’t always make the best captains.

Most the game is behind them so they can’t organise defensive structures.

Plus, forwards generally play the full 90 minutes less often than defenders or defensive midfielders as coaches shuffle the pack/protect their prime assets.

We know the problem, but what’s the solution?

Yes? No? Maybe?

Yes? No? Maybe?

Rather than publicly announcing five captains, Emery could back one player in an attempt to promote them as a figurehead — Sead Kolasinac, Bernd Leno or Sokratis Papastathopoulos maybe?

He could then privately explain the protocol if said captain is injured, suspended, etc.

Explicitly backing a singular captain could potentially nurture the selected player’s leadership qualities.

In the long-term, perhaps the club should consider leadership skills among the primary attributes when recruiting new players.

In many ways, five captains amounts to zero.

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