“Arsenal players hold blind vote…” run the headlines or some variation on the theme. The outcome is that the blind are leading the blind.
Five captains? It raises questions about the squad, the same one we’ve been asking for years: where are the leaders?
Unai Emery wants the squad to choose the captains and asked them to cross the ballot papers during the summer. It’s a close-run thing; the recounts are taking a lifetime.
Life was much simpler when the manager walked into the changing room, tossed the armband to one player and that was the job done. Usually, that player stood out; someone the squad naturally followed. Not necessarily most popular but one they believed in.
This is taking it one step further; democracy in action. It also points to there not being one standout character.
Or is it simply the case that Emery’s choice is massively unpopular and he knows it? There’s no doubt Granit Xhaka is the Spaniard’s choice but even he isn’t deaf to the criticism of the Swiss. If the squad puts the armband on the midfielder, it shields Emery: “it’s not my choice – the players want him”.
Is that too political for the coach? Should he even care whether a player is popular? Maybe that post-match interview was a whine too far and actually stymied the decision to appoint Xhaka captain?
Do we even care?
I ask that facetiously and seriously all at once. For more than a decade, the captaincy has been a long-hand transfer request. Everyone who wore it, left but not always of their own accord.
It’s pointed out that the captain is usually part of a group in continental football. Yet within that, there is a pecking order: captain, vice-captain, 3rd captain, etc. The captain is the captain.
Following the Leader
Plenty of players on the surface, fit the bill. Aubameyang has some qualities needed; scorer, go-to guy, etc. Leadership comes in many forms and in essence, giving Nicolas Pepe the opportunity to break his duck with a penalty against Villa captures the spirit we want.
Is he keeping the seat warm for Hector Bellerin? Like Rob Holding, he’s benefited from a spell on the touchlines. Criticism of his fashion sense died out whilst he recovered. His reputation on the pitch grew as our failings were exposed.
Don’t get me wrong; Hector is a good right-back, potentially an excellent one. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a defensive midfielder standing in; doing the best he can in a role he’s made abundantly clear he doesn’t like.
Holding was performing well and is now returning to a role that, despite being their day jobs, neither Luiz or Sokratis seems to particularly like.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.
There’s some similarity between Xhaka and Bellerin; their nadir came after defeat to Watford. The abuse Xhaka gets now is the same Bellerin received then. It wasn’t right then and the same applies now. Criticism isn’t an issue but there’s a line all too frequently stepped over.
At the end of all this, we see the same players wearing the armband. Granit Xhaka wore it again last weekend, he’ll wear it at Old Trafford on Monday. Emery likes him, trusts him and that’s the end of the subject.
Elsewhere, the squad is relatively healthy. Dino Mavropanos is back in training, to the same extent Tierney and Bellerin are. Not ready for action but training. The only absentees are Lacazette and Emile Smith Rowe. They are out until after the international break if we’re lucky in the former’s case.