Club Focus – Arsenal – Gunners crave a leader

All the Arsenal headlines this weekend were grabbed by an ex-Gunner. Emmanuel Adebayor has infuriated the North Londoners for an alleged stamp on Robin van Persie’s face and an inflammatory goal celebration in front of the away support.

But the Togolese striker’s antics are the least of Arsene Wenger’s problems. His Gunners team, for the second Premier League match in a row, were beaten in Manchester despite playing arguably the better football. The team imploded at Old Trafford after Rooney’s penalty and they seemed to do the same at Eastlands on Saturday. All it took was a slice of bad luck when Arsenal were dominating the game to change the whole complexion of the match – young heads dropped and the confidence ebbed away. It is in situations like this, where a team needs a lift, that a true leader is required – the type of player who will rally his teammates and remind them that they are the better team and are still in control of the game.

This leader is something that Arsenal have been lacking this season – it was evident against Manchester United and it came to the fore again at the weekend. Cesc Fabregas is an astonishingly talented footballer but, in this writer’s opinion, is not captain material. Burdening your most creative player with the captaincy is also sometimes detrimental to his form, which could easily be said of Fabregas for periods last season. Almunia wore the armband against United, but just how effective can a captain who cannot leave his penalty area really be? Tony Adams is one of the most revered captains to have pulled on the red and white of Arsenal – overcoming troubles on and off the pitch to lead his team to numerous trophies – and Arsenal are severely lacking a figure such as this.

A captain should be a born leader and not just the most gifted player on the pitch. Leadership and world-beating talent do not often go hand-in-hand. If you look at the so-called ‘Big Four’, only Liverpool can claim to have their best player as their captain in Steven Gerrard. Chelsea have John Terry – a player firmly in the Tony Adams mould – while Manchester United have Gary Neville, an experienced campaigner. Wenger’s policy of nurturing youth does produce some amazing talent, however one thing you cannot train a young player to be is a leader – that is something that will develop over time as their influence on the team grows. With his experience and authority, William Gallas should be the natural choice for captain in the current Arsenal line-up, but we all remember how that one worked out last time. Looking through the team it is hard to see where a captain will emerge from – Thomas Vermaelen perhaps being the best candidate but he still needs time to weave himself into the very fabric of the club before questions of captaincy can be raised.

The issue of players who have been allowed to leave the club also came into this writer’s mind over the weekend. Whilst the Arsenal faithful fell out of love with Adebayor, the likes of Alexandr Hleb, Mathieu Flamini and perhaps even Gilberto Silva could all certainly have had a part to play both last season and this. Flamini was surely the biggest loss, with Arsenal fans pining for a tough-tackling midfielder ever since he swapped London for the Milan bench. His growing influence in the team during the 2007/08 season could also have paved the way for future captaincy – leaving Fabregas to orchestrate the beautiful football that so often graces the Emirates.

While any talk of crisis is certainly premature, the apparent lack of fighting spirit and mental toughness in the camp is a worry. But Arsenal are still capable of beating any team on the planet, they just need to do it week in week out and, perhaps, dare it be said, learn to win ‘ugly’. To lose in Manchester twice is painful, but should the Gunners beat both City and United at the Emirates then all will be forgiven, although the return fixtures are a while off yet. Wenger is going to have to pick his players up and remind them that it is still only September and the race for the Premier League is a long one that will have many more twists yet. Regular visitors to the Emirates will often see “In Arsene We Trust” in the stands. Arsenal fans just need to keep that faith a little longer.

Arsenal Club Focus

Pre-season preparations take a few hits – July 29
Gunners as prepared as they can be for Everton – August 12
Gunners gear up for vital ‘Battle of Britain’ clash – August 18
Fortuitous Gunners revel in Glasgow win – August 21
Electric Arsenal improve on success with a formidable win – August 25
Gunners undone by terrible errors – September 1
No international break for injured Gunners – September 4
Wenger and Fergie in war of words – September 8
Gunners crave a leader – September 15

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