Who should be Arsenal captain next season?

Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen has been dropped by manager Arsene Wenger for the Gunners’ last two games.

The Belgian has outlined his determination to fight for his place in the North Londoners’ back four but, after the poor level of performance he has displayed for the majority of this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were stripped of the armband this summer.

"I am fighting to win my place back, and nothing will change my mentality or the way I work - I will give everything every day, as I have throughout my career," explained the 27-year-old.

"It is just something that happens in football, especially when you play for a big club. I have played many games in my career, and spending two on the bench does not mean the world is on fire,” he added.

Whilst the first part of this statement sounds great and gives Arsenal fans reason to hope their skipper can return to the level of performance he enjoyed in his first three season prior to being appointed captain last summer, the second part suggests that he’s learned nothing from being benched by the boss.

Language always gives you away they say and phrases like ‘it happens’, and pointing to the fact the ‘world is [not] on fire’ implies the skipper thinks it’s no big deal that he’s been dropped to the bench. That doesn’t bode well, considering it has been his complacent attitude that has been the problem this season.

In two out of his first three seasons in North London he was exceptional – undoubtedly one of Wenger’s most important and influential players. He was injured for virtually the whole of 2010/11 and was sorely and desperately missed by the Gunners but seemed to have picked up where he left off when he returned last term.

He was handed the captain’s armband by the boss in the wake of the departure of Robin van Persie and it’s been downhill for the centre-back since then. He’s been sloppy, lacked focus, desire, commitment and even technical abilities like positional awareness and anticipation.

He’s not been alone in this – his defensive partners Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, and even Bacary Sagna have been unusually poor this season as well, careless and calamitous at worst, unconvincing and inconsistent at best.

So who should be Arsenal captain? Well, the eldest senior players they have are Tomas Rosicky and Sebastian Squilacci who are both 32. The former is an exceptional talent but rarely stays fit for an entire season and the latter has made exactly zero league appearances this season and will almost certainly be gone by next term.

Mikel Arteta is 31 and is vice-captain at present. He is one of the Gunners’ most diligent, reliable and influential players – he’s made 34 appearances this season in all competitions and is one of the Premier League’s most accurate and consistent passers of the ball. He’s a permanent fixture of the top five players in the league in terms of pass completion rate.

However, Arsenal’s most highly-rated and important player is 21-year-old Jack Wilshere. He is captain material of the highest quality and he certainly wouldn’t be bad shout but, I suspect, Wenger won’t want to place even more expectation on his than there already is for his club and country.

I have no doubt he will be Arsenal captain in the future and probably for his country too at some stage. But it’s a little too much too soon to ask at this juncture.

Wojciech Szczesny hasn’t been at his best this season but he is another future captain candidate in my estimation. He’s still only 22 and has a lot to learn to become a world-class goalkeeper as has been evidenced by his form this season but there in no denying his impeccable quality.

He could very well wear the armband in the future. Perhaps Bacary Sagna could be convinced to stay at the Emirates if he were to be offered the armband – I highly doubt it but, should he stay and renew his contract, he would surely be contender for the captaincy.

Or, maybe Vermaelen should just keep it? He’s had a bad season but he’s not alone in that respect. I tend to suspect the manager will remain patient and keep his faith in the Belgian in the hope he’ll deliver on that promise next term. Personally, I’d pick Arteta and switch the vice-captain and the captain roles around.

The armband of any club or country is not just an honour awarded but is a responsibility bestowed and should be based on merit in the first place and then delivery on that duty from then on.

By that principle, Thomas Vermaelen is, unfortunately, not fit to wear it for Arsenal and as he’s found out by being dropped to the bench, there are others more deserving of such an esteemed position. But hey, ‘it happens’, right? It's not like the world's on fire, after all.

images: © wonker, © Ronnie Macdonald

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