As written in Goonersphere.
Mikel Arteta took the Arsenal captain’s armband from Thomas Vermaelen after being an ever present in the Arsenal midfield and deputising for the Belgian as Arsenal’s Vice-captain. Now aged 33, with 5 seasons with Arsenal and 2 FA Cup titles to his name, and his contract due to expire in the summer he is being painted as dead wood by some fans and a worthy squad addition as player-coach by others. So what next for our club captain?
The Captain is the one who is supposed to be prepared to sacrifice himself for the team and Arteta did that from the moment he pen to paper on his first Arsenal contract. His style of play at Everton was that of a more conventional number 10 or playmaker but he took on a deeper creative midfield role with Arsenal in his first season before making the full-time switch to being Arsenal’s defensive, or holding, midfielder. Mikel, whilst not comparable in a technical sense to Guardiola, took on a similar ‘pivot’ style as the ex-Barcelona player and manager. He was effective in that role due to his calm and assertive personality, allowing him to be the one dictating the tempo from deep.
Arteta played a key role in helping Arsenal lift their first major honour in 9 years to cap off three years of great performances but in November 2014, he started to look sluggish and his battle with injuries began. As such it came as a surprise to some when he signed a one year contract extension last summer but overall I think he deserved it.
Arteta’s passion for being Arsenal’s captain cannot be questioned and his celebration for scoring against his old side, Everton, where he put his hand on our crest, the holy crest, demonstrated that. He clearly has a lot of affection for his former club but he loves Arsenal.
Some people have superstitious beliefs about the Arsenal captaincy being cursed with each of Arsenal’s captains since Patrick Vieira all leaving either losing their first team spot to another player or forcing their way out. I never really bought into it and it could be simple coincidence fueling confirmation bias but it does look like Arteta is the latest victim of said curse. Arteta getting injured forced Arsène to bring back Coquelin and he immediately set out about doing a better job than the captain and has gone from strength to strength. Francis Coquelin is a different style of player to Arteta, he doesn’t have the same passing range and cannot dictate the tempo from behind like the Spaniard but he is much better at tackling, cutting out possession and giving stability to the defense. Coquelin’s work rate is phenomenal too but considering Arteta’s age it’s hard to hold that one against him especially as his technique is still there.
The recent theme for Arsenal captains sitting on the sidelines calls into question the mentality of the club and manager for some. The captain is supposed to be the vessel of leadership on the pitch but with the official captain sometimes seen as a reluctant addition to the matchday squad it’s asked if the armband is a meaningless symbol these days. If indeed the role is purely symbolic then surely Arsenal’s mental fragility will be exposed? Two FA Cup wins and occupying top spot in the league dispels that a little but the worry of a lack of leadership lingers. How can the appointed leader play a pivotal role in shaping the mentality of the club from the background? Well, Arteta finds himself in that situation, much as Thomas Vermaelen did before him, and he is showing a lot of leadership and composure.
“Being captain is a big honour and a privilege, with a big responsibility. I will try to stand up and do my best for my players. I have done it before last season when Thomas was injured, so I am used to it, now I just have to try make the best of my team-mates, the manager and the club.” – Mikel Arteta, 2015.
He is showing that he isn’t thinking solely about his career. He is 33 years old, with the sun setting ever more steadily on his career, and yet he is more focused on how to make the best for his team-mates, for Arsène and for Arsenal. How could you not respect someone who puts the club before himself? Rather than seek a comfortable swan song elsewhere he is determined to support the team, in whatever way he can, to establish a basis for long and short-term success.
That is true leadership. The many before the one. The club before the man. That’s why Wenger is linking him to a managerial or coach role at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger has been told the media that Arteta will be fit for the FA cup match against Sunderland today, and I hope he will be playing on through the second half of season to lead and help us chase silverware on three fronts. I believe his mentality will give him boost to fight for his place with Coquelin and Flamini. Should he rediscover a vein of fitness and stamina he still has exceptional quality and that will be crucial for squad rotation.
Mikel can work with Coquelin as Santi does, playing the role of accomplished passer and play builder. We already know he works well with Ramsey. Mikel can offer us depth and leadership until his contract is up and whatever decision is made after that, be it to retire, play elsewhere or become our player-coach, he will surely have earned the respect and love of Arsenal fans worldwide.
Anzala Ryanto as Author of this post, big Gooner and right now focused as freelance sports journalist in Indonesia, USA and UK.
anzalariveris.wordpress.com / @anzalariveris