When Arsenal lifted the Community Shield, it was Mikel Arteta who was charged with the responsibility of leading his team up to the prize. The Spaniard has been named as the successor to Thomas Vermaelen as Arsenal’s captain.
In some respects, it’s a move that makes plenty of sense. Arteta was the vice-captain throughout last season and wore the armband more frequently than any other player. With Vermaelen predominantly on the substitutes bench, Arteta became the side’s de facto leader.
It’s a role that suits him. The Spanish midfielder is a well-liked and well-respected member of the squad. He immediately reached out to new signing Alexis Sanchez to welcome him to the club. He is the most experienced and vocal of the club’s growing Spanish-speaking contingent.
No one is questioning Arteta’s leadership qualities. He is a fierce competitor and calm presence in the dressing room. He has served Arsenal well for several years, and the armband is an arguably fitting reward for his dedication to the cause.
However, there are some concerns surrounding his appointment as skipper. At 32, Arteta is not likely to be a long-term occupant of the role. His Arsenal contract expires at the end of the forthcoming season, and as of yet, there is no significant news on the possibility of a new deal. Arsene Wenger is famously reluctant to give lengthy deals to players in that age bracket.
There are also question marks over Arteta’s place in the starting XI. Last season, his age appeared to catch up with him somewhat. Arteta was occasionally overpowered by some of the more youthful players stalking the Premier League’s midfield. Most Arsenal fans hope for Wenger to bring in a robust holding midfielder to help anchor an Arsenal team bristling with attacking potential.
An alternative candidate for the armband would have been Per Mertesacker. Unlike Arteta, his place in the team is absolutely guaranteed. Mertesacker has made himself invaluable to Arsenal, and his partnership with Laurent Koscielny is one of the best in the Premier League.
He’s also a natural leader. Mertesacker is the man charged with collecting the fines in the Arsenal dressing room. He’s a player with a superb team ethic, and he is a gifted organiser. The best captains are often centre-backs. From his position at the rear of the team, Mertesacker is able to read and interpret the game better than most.
He’s younger than Arteta, too. Mertesacker has no real pace to lose, so he could stay at the heart of the Arsenal defence for many years to come. Last season, he signed a new long-term contract with the club. It would have made a lot of sense to appoint him as the man to lead the next generation of Arsenal talent.
Perhaps Mertesacker’s day as captain will come. With doubts persisting over Arteta’s future, the big German will surely be next in line to inherit the armband. In the meantime, he will lend Arteta crucial support as his vice-captain.
Arsenal fans could be frustrated about seeing Mertesacker overlooked in favour of Arteta. However, they should instead celebrate the presence of two such leaders in one squad.