At the start of the season Arsene Wenger had to make an important call on naming his next captain of Arsenal Football Club. After many years of chopping and changing between captains, the Gunners finally found a steady leader in Mikel Arteta. The only issue was that Arteta wasn’t fully capable of leading from the pitch on most occasions, with the now retired midfielder suffering many injury and fitness problems in his final years at the club. After his retirement, the Arsenal boss was keen to pick a player who showed leadership on and off the pitch and in the eyes of Arsene Wenger, that player was Per Mertesacker.
Mertesacker is yet to make a competitive appearance for the Gunners this season, after the BFG was ruled out for around 6 months following on from an injury picked up in pre-season. The German is however due to return soon, with the defender making real progress in his final recovery stages.
Personally I’m a little surprised that Wenger decided to choose Mertesacker as captain. There is no doubt that he is a leader on and off the pitch, he reads the game well and can motivate a player’s performance. However my issue with making Mertesacker captain is the fact that much like Arteta, the BFG is going to make a limited number of appearances in the latter stages of his Arsenal career and Mertesacker has even suggested in the past months that he may have to consider leaving Arsenal if he doesn’t get regular playing time.
On the captaincy, Mertesacker himself has revealed that whilst he is proud to captain the Arsenal, he was slightly surprised by the appointment. In a Daily Telegraph report, Mertesacker is quoted as saying: “It was a tough decision and I would have understood everything if he had said that he needed someone nearby the team. He knew how long I was out but he told me that he still saw me as a big figure for the club and that I was his first choice. I couldn’t believe it. It was huge for me. I was really buzzing as it came at the time I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
“You want to be on the pitch, giving advice, making the difference, but sometimes that is not the role and you have to let it go. I needed to learn that. I felt very confident that I could still fulfil the role by being myself. That was what the manager demanded as well. He said, ‘Do not force anything; be natural, be yourself and don’t exaggerate the captaincy’.”
The biggest issue that I feel Arsenal have had with captains in recent years, ever since the likes of Henry and Fabregas, is that they have arguably been made captains for all the wrong reasons. It has been suggested in the past that Henry was given the captaincy in an attempt to get him to stay after he considered leaving. The same case goes for Fabregas. Vermaelen looked like he could’ve been a strong captain, but injury concerns kept him out of the side, the same of which goes for Mikel Arteta. Now with Mertesacker, the German not only has a major injury concern, but we have to raise the fact that it’s extremely unlikely that he’s ever going to be a regular in this Arsenal side again. Not only would he have to beat Mustafi and Koscielny to the post, but I think that even Holding and Gabriel are also ranked above Mertesacker in the pecking order. So is it right that our captain is a player that never gets a look in?
Mertesacker is still capable of performing the role of captain from the sidelines and I think off the pitch, the German will be very influential. He is a leader and a powerful character in the squad. But it is a tad frustrating for the side knowing that your captain on the pitch is different to the captain off the pitch and so has Wenger really made the best choice when it comes to naming the captain for this season? Or does he have another motive for having a non-playing captain?