Arsenal: The Vice-Captain Dilemma
Say what you will about Jaime Carragher’s fading skills; I certainly have. But at least when Steven Gerrard’s unable to play, Carragher steps into the captaincy with confidence. He’ll bark orders and boss his team like a captain should, which is why a lot of people ticket him for a future as a manager. Even if Carragher were out, Mascherano (while he’s still at Liverpool) would gladly assume the armband. And if not Mascherano, then Reina. Or even Kuyt.
Same thing at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge — both squads are loaded with players who wouldn’t hesitate to serve as the emotional backbone of their team.
Cesc Fabregas is a great captain, but he was out today. And do you know who Arsene Wenger picked as captain in his place? Manuel Almunia. ALMUNIA. While he might not have been the keeper who flubbed the worst today, he could hardly be described on top of his game. And what does it say about Wenger that he stuck the armband on a player he threw under the bus a month ago?
A generous interpretation would be that he was trying to show Almunia that he believed in him. If so, that’s a pretty transparent ploy, and as noted, it didn’t suddenly transform him into a reliable keeper. The more accurate assessment is that there’s really no one on this team who has the look of a leader outside of Fabregas. Maybe Song’s that guy, but he was missing too, and certainly hasn’t proven his mettle as captain in a big game. Arshavin, Nasri, Vermaelen — these are fine players, but for Wenger to trust Almunia over them says there isn’t a lot of leadership spilling out onto the practice field for the Gunners.
This is a young team, but young players can show leadership potential. Just ask Cesc. It’s also a rudderless team without their captain, and the mental collapse suffered after N’gog’s goal to start the second half provided the proof. After having their way against full-strength Liverpool for 45 minutes, Arsenal looked a shambles for much of the second half despite being up a man or two the entire time. Every player seemed to be looking at every other player in the hopes that one of them would make a difference. If leadership vacuums could stink, I would’ve smelled that one all the way in Brooklyn.
This is a disturbing problem for Arsenal this season. Emotionally fragile teams don’t typically compete for championships, nor do teams who rely on one player to provide all of their physical and emotional excellence. Somebody else needs to show they can lead; preferably a few somebodies.
This is an even more disturbing problem for the future, though. Barring a change of heart, Fabregas is almost certain to leave after this year. Who will fill his shoes on and off the pitch? Who will wear the armband with pride and instill confidence in his teammates? Who on this team has the look of a future leader? These are troubling, unanswered questions for Arsenal.