Arsenal’s Premier League season begins against Manchester City on Sunday, and with Laurent Koscielny sidelined due to a long-term injury, the club is left without a nominated captain. Despite not knowing who will don the captain’s armband, fans should be optimistic about Unai Emery’s proactive approach to the leadership situation at Arsenal.
By suggesting a leadership group of five captains, Emery is promoting a team-wide sense of responsibility. The Spanish manager has been cycling through captains in each of the pre-season games; we’ve seen Petr Cech wear the armband against Chelsea, as well as Aaron Ramsey in the Atletico Madrid game, while Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka led the team against PSG and Lazio respectively.
Signs of true leadership from Granit Xhaka. Congratulated Reiss Nelson on his goal but soon offered him advice about a previous situation. Good to see. pic.twitter.com/msF5VU8DvQ— Darren (@DF_Arsenal) August 4, 2018
Emery said in a press conference last month Laurent Koscielny will remain as the “first captain,” but being sidelined with a long-term injury has prompted his decision to expand leadership roles within the team.
“My first idea is to have five captains in the team,” Emery said.
“But at the moment, I don’t know the names.
”We are looking at who are the players whose personality is the best in the dressing room.”
The idea of expanding leadership roles to more than just the captain and vice-captain is often seen in junior and grassroots teams, but it is now becoming more popular in professional sports. This is exactly the approach Arsenal needs to dispel the leadership woes left by Arsene Wenger.
Since the departure of Patrick Vieira, Arsenal have lacked a single figure who can take control of games and lead the side to victory in times of hardship. As the years rolled on, a severe lack of leadership and responsibility amongst the players started to settle in, peaking towards the latter stages of Wenger’s tenure. He will claim, however, football is no longer producing ‘natural captains.’
“You don’t have natural captains anymore in the younger generation... I don’t know why, maybe because every player is now a star,” Wenger said during this year’s World Cup, using Neymar as an example.
Wenger uses Neymar to mourn lack of ‘natural captains’ https://t.co/kVs9275dn5— Simön Gaunt (@GoonerGaunty73) June 18, 2018
It’s a good point, the days of players such as Vieira and Roy Keane are long gone, but things change, that’s life. Wenger’s problem, in the end, was his inability to keep up with the modern game. It’s the manager’s responsibility to identify and implement ways to get the most out of his players, and Wenger simply didn’t do that on the leadership front. (He even forgot to nominate a captain in the second half against Manchester City in April 2017.)
Arsenal legend Sol Campbell slated the team after their performance against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final in February, citing leadership and coaching ‘issues.’ In a roundabout way, the invincible centre-half implicated Wenger for this, while Gary Neville heaped blame onto the players rather than the coach.
It’s always easy to blame players—Neville used Ozil as a scapegoat in this instance—but the fact of the matter is, the issue starts from the top down, the manager must be responsible for what is being shown on the pitch and around the training grounds. If there are no clear-cut individual leaders in the current generation of footballers, then what is the answer? Well, five captains of course!
Maybe not literally, but by giving players such as Ozil and Xhaka a chance to step into a leadership role offers them a chance to develop the relevant skills needed to be a captain. Everyone likes to complain about Ozil’s seemingly blasé style of play, but perhaps he was mismanaged by Wenger? Who says he couldn’t grow into a leadership role if given the chance?
It will be exciting to see who emerges at the front of the tunnel at The Emirates on Sunday, but one thing remains certain: Emery is not willing to make the same mistakes as his predecessor.