The curse of the Arsenal captain - the armband that signals the exit

Thomas Vermaelen Pre FA Cup Press Conference

Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen could be the latest Gunners skipper to head for the exit at the Emirates this summer.

The 28-year-old Belgian skipper has been a peripheral figure for the North Londoners since he was controversially dropped from the starting line up in March 2013 as Arsenal headed out to face Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

His exclusion from the team (along with No.1 goalkeeper Wojceich Szczesny) was proceeded by defeat in the North London derby to Tottenham at White Hart Lane in 2012/13 but the Gunners went on to beat the Bavarians 2-0 in Munich with the pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in the centre of the backline and the German and Frenchman have been impossible for Vermaelen to shift ever since.

The skipper made just five starts in the Premier League in 2013/14 for Arsenal and was not in the side that started at Wembley in the FA Cup Final win over Hull last month. He is subsequently linked with an exit, with numerous reports suggesting he is already in talks with Manchester United over a £100,000-per-week deal.

If Vermaelen does leave this summer for Old Trafford, it’ll be under very different circumstances from the previous holder of the armband. Robin van Persie was named captain and within 12 months he was on his way out, engineering a move away from the club where he spent eight years under Arsene Wenger by stating he would not be signing a new contract, questioning the ambitions and direction of the club and manager that made him a household name.

Before the Dutch striker, Cesc Fabregas, the newest recruit at Stamford Bridge, left for, yet again, a very different set of reasons – the Spanish midfielder wanted to return to home to Barcelona, his boyhood club, also after eight years with the Gunners, following the Catalans’ long and aggressive chase to return him to the Camp Nou.

Fabregas had been captain, however, for two-and-a-half years before his move in 2011, more than twice the length of time of his successor Van Persie. William Gallas before him held the armband for 16 months across 2007 and 2008 before being demoted for criticising his teammates publicly. The France defender left a year and a half later after four years with Arsenal.

Club legend Thierry Henry remains the club’s top goal scorer and an outspoken fan of the club he spent the best eight years of his career. He was made skipper in 2005 despite flirting with a move to Barcelona – he signed a new contract and was seemingly set to stay for good but made his move to the Camp Nou 23 months after being made captain.

In a now familiar narrative, French midfielder Patrick Vieira, another club legend, was named captain in 2002 and signed for Juventus just 24 months later. The Gunners’ hero spent nine years in North London but ultimately his rise to be the star player in the team led to his eventual exit which is, again, a familiar motif.

Whilst Vermaelen is not a star player and, for the most part, not a first-team starter anymore, he will be the fifth Arsenal captain since Tony Adams’ reign to leave within three years of being made captain. It’s not so much a curse as it is culmination of factors – as soon as an Arsenal player starts to perform at a top-class level, they are suddenly linked with moves to other European and domestic superpowers who can offer more money and more trophies.

Tony Adams played his entire career at Arsenal, 30 years from the age of 14. He was made captain in 1988 and held the armband for 14 years but they don’t make them like that anymore. However, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has been in possession of the armband for 11 years and counting, John Terry has held the armband at Chelsea for a decade whilst Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic held it for three years and Gary Neville before him six years.

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