With Arsenal searching for a new captain after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was stripped of the armband over a disciplinary breach, we take a look at some of the candidates with the help of former Gunners striker Alan Smith…
Mikel Arteta has already suggested there will be no rush to appoint a permanent replacement for Aubameyang as captain, with members of the club’s “leadership group” set to share the responsibility in the coming weeks.
But it’s an important decision for Arsenal, especially given their recent history with the captain’s armband, with the likes of Gabriel, Kieran Tierney, Granit Xhaka, Martin Odegaard and Aaron Ramsdale linked with the job.
Here we look at some of the candidates, with Smith giving his verdict on who he thinks could be the next Arsenal skipper…
There’s a leadership group at Arsenal, which buys Mikel Arteta some time. It’s a big decision for Arteta and Arsenal.
The Brazilian has been a major presence at the heart of the Arsenal defence in the last 12 months. He’s been a commanding and reliable figure in Mikel Arteta’s new-look defence. He’s arguably the leader of that unit and can regularly be seen organising and cajoling his team-mates, leading for calls for him to be handed the captain’s armband. However, could his grasp of the English language be an issue? Since his arrival from Lille in the summer of 2020, his English has improved, and is improving, but is it at the level required to lead a Premier League side?
ALAN SMITH SAYS: “I look at Gabriel and he looks like a natural leader to me.
“He’s always talking on the pitch and Benjamin White would vouch for that.
“I’m not sure how good his English is, but it certainly doesn’t stop him from chatting right through the match, and his performances have backed up that kind of attitude as well.
“You only really know when you are in the dressing room and you are working with them every day on the training ground, but he definitely looks like he’s got the qualities to be an Arsenal captain.
“For me, Gabriel, from what I’ve seen this season, he looks the part and is certainly playing the part.”
Very early into his Arsenal career the Scot was tipped as a future Arsenal captain thanks to his superb performances and his battling qualities. He has leadership experience in the past, leading both Scotland and Celtic, but will he play enough games to get the Arsenal armband on a full-time basis?
He’s suffered his fair share of injury problems during his time with the Gunners and this season he’s had to battle for his place with Nuno Tavares, who has featured ahead of Tierney on a number of occasions.
SMITH SAYS: “He’s no longer an automatic first choice of Arteta. Nuno Tavares has played his fair share of games this season in the absence of Tierney and when the Scot has been fit to play.
“It may be the way that continues with Arteta using Tierney for some games and Tavares for others, which would probably play against his chances of getting the armband.
“Tierney is a very good character, obviously, but there may just be a better option this time around.”
Smith on Arsenal’s ‘big decision’ and the importance of a modern day captain…
Sky Sports’ Alan Smith:
“People say captains don’t matter so much these days, but I think they do.
“People still look towards the captain and he organises things off the field. Players are asking what time the meetings are, where are we going, what hotel are we stopping at and different bits and bobs.
“You have got to lead by example and show the right way forward because otherwise, the discipline of the squad can take a hit.
“The captaincy in this day and age is still a very key component in football, especially in a young squad like Arsenal’s.
“It’s a big decision for Arteta and Arsenal.”
The Swiss midfielder has all the attributes to be a captain, which is why he has already had the role at Arsenal once before. However, it all ended in tears when he clashed with the Arsenal supporters at the Emirates Stadium when substituted in a game against Crystal Palace in October, 2019 when Unai Emery was manager.
Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy, which led to Aubameyang’s appointment, but could he get another opportunity now? Arteta regularly states Xhaka’s importance to the Gunners, but it would be another bold decision to reinstate him to the captaincy, given the history involved.
SMITH SAYS: “Arteta has stated on numerous occasions how important Xhaka is to this Arsenal side.
“However, I cannot see the Arsenal manager turning back to the Swiss midfielder for the captaincy because of the reaction the decision would get from the fans.
“I think Arteta would swerve that one.”
He may have only been at the club for less than a year but Odegaard has already been singled out by Arteta for his leadership qualities. “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.”
Odegaard can regularly be heard passing on instructions to his team-mates during games and he certainly sets an example with his performances. He’s also shown he can lead at international level after being made captain of Norway at 22. However, has this opportunity just come too soon for him at the Emirates Stadium?
SMITH SAYS: “Odegaard has captaincy experience with Norway.
“At just 22 he’s leading his national team so that’s a very good sign for his leadership qualities.
“However, I think it’s just a bit early for him in his Arsenal career and until recently, he wasn’t an automatic starter for Arteta.
“So, for that reason, I don’t think he will be first in Arteta’s thoughts.”
Analysis: Who next for Arsenal?
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:
It is a bold decision by Mikel Arteta to strip Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy – particularly as there are few obvious candidates in the squad to assume the responsibility.
Granit Xhaka is a firm favourite of the Spaniard’s and widely regarded as a leader in the dressing room but it would be hugely controversial to return the armband to a player who himself was stripped of it under Unai Emery prior to Aubameyang taking over.
If Xhaka’s rollercoaster relationship with the fanbase rules him out, then who else?
Arteta has repeatedly talked of the need for Arsenal’s senior players to lead by example but Alexandre Lacazette is out of contract at the end of the season, while Thomas Partey, although experienced, may be better off focusing on finding form.
Perhaps he will opt for Kieran Tierney, who he described as a “natural leader” and a potential future captain earlier this year, but is the left-back, still only 24, ready for the armband now having been in and out of the side this season?
Tierney has been at the club longer than others of around the same age, but another option for Arteta would be to give it to one of his summer signings. He has repeatedly talked up Aaron Ramsdale’s leadership qualities and he has been similarly complimentary about Ben White and Martin Odegaard. Gabriel Magalhaes, who arrived a year earlier, may be another option.
Failing that, he could mirror what his mentor Arsene Wenger did when he gave the captaincy to a 21-year-old Cesc Fabregas, and hand the armband to someone like Bukayo Saka. That, though, is very much an outside possibility.
Ramsdale has had a huge impact since his arrival at Arsenal last summer.
He’s quickly become a cult figure with the club’s supporters after a string of fine performances since coming into the side in place of Bernd Leno earlier in the season.
He’s shown plenty of character too, which suggests he could be an Arsenal captain of the future, but again, it could be too early into his career in north London.
SMITH SAYS: “The England goalkeeper has had a brilliant first half of the season, but we’ll be able to make much more of an assessment of him at the end of the season.
“You can see his leadership skills already coming through but I’m not sure he needs the captain’s armband just yet.
“He’s hit the ground running on the pitch and he looks more than happy with how things are.
“So, I’d keep the status quo with Ramsdale, for now.”
How to follow Arsenal vs West Ham…
Follow Arsenal vs West Ham in our dedicated live match blog. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after full-time.
Who else could be in contention?
Alexandre Lacazette is in the current leadership group and took the captain’s armband in place of Aubameyang in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Southampton last weekend. But is he a long-term option? The French striker is out of contract at the end of the season and could walk away from the Emirates Stadium for free next summer.
Ben White is another who has been touted for the role. He is a guaranteed start in this Arsenal team and centre-back has been a traditional position for a captain. But, it is still relatively early in his Arsenal career and like Ramsdale, Arteta may just want to let him get on with the job of defending rather than complicating matters with the captaincy.
You could argue that Thomas Partey fits the bill. he’s one of Arsenal’s more experienced players and is vice-captain of Ghana. However, things haven’t quite gone to plan for the midfielder since his move from Atletico Madrid so he may be better off focusing on finding some form and consistency.
Youth has been a key part of Arteta’s Arsenal reign so far, but burdening either Bukayo Saka or Emile Smith Rowe with leadership seems like an unlikely possibility at this stage of their developments.
Arsenal’s captaincy curse continues
William Gallas, Robin van Persie, Laurent Koscielny – among others – and now Aubameyang…
Emery named Aubameyang as Arsenal’s new captain after taking the armband off Granit Xhaka and Arteta decided to stick with the striker after taking over as manager a few weeks later.
The decision seemed to pay off initially, with Aubameyang leading Arsenal to FA Cup glory in August 2020 and scoring his 28th and 29th goals of the season in the final, but his form dipped after he signed a new long-term contract a few weeks after that.
The 32-year-old scored only 15 goals last season, his lowest total since the 2010/11 campaign, and if his form was not enough of a worry, disciplinary issues began to arise too. Aubameyang kept hold of the armband after his indiscretion against Tottenham last season, but this has proved a breach too far.
The curse of the Arsenal captaincy continues.