Arsenal FC: Power Ranking the Gunners Captains in the Premiership Era
There have been many legends to wear the captain’s armband for Arsenal over the years, but the club has been especially blessed in that regard since the dawn of the Premiership era in 1992.
Since that time, the club has enjoyed the greatest era in its long and storied history, collecting a total of 10 winner’s medals in the 19 seasons since the clubs in the Football League First Division severed ties with the venerable Football League—the world’s oldest football league, founded in 1888—in order to take advantage of a lucrative television deal.
That, as history readily testifies, was a sound decision of the highest order, as the EPL is the world’s most watched football competition.
Other sound decisions include most of Arsenal’s decisions as far as appointing captains is concerned.
With Greats like Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry among their number, the Gunners Premiership-era captains would form one hell of a side were they ever to be so assembled, and it comes as little surprise that they captained the club to such heights.
Here is my attempt to rank the great footballers who have worn the captain’s armband for Arsenal during the EPL era. This will be based upon length of captaincy, club results during that span, leadership qualities and individual statistics. It will not be perfect, but very little is.
Lehmann ably manned the goal for the “Invincibles,” and for that alone he deserves plaudits.
But his attributes as a captain fall well short of what is required of a Gunners field leader. This point is made best by the German’s sending off early in the first half of the 2006 Champions League Final in Paris.
The Frenchman played just a single match as a fill-in captain and hardly merits mention. He’s good in the air and seems to know what he’s doing in defense, but he hardly fits the mold of an Arsenal captain.
Eduardo Da Silva
Although a dangerous forward prior to his devastating broken leg, sustained in 2008 against Birmingham City following a cowardly Martin Taylor challenge, the Brazilian-born Croatian international was always too quiet both on and off the pitch to ever mount a serious bid for permanent captaincy.
The Spaniard has looked more like a player who needs a few words from a captain rather than a player who should be one. His fragile temperament and shaky nerves pretty much precluded Almunia from ever logging too much time with the armband.
Clichy first captained the Gunners during the 2008-09 preseason against Barnet, and has worn the armband sporadically since that time. Known as an attack-minded left back with good pace and the ability to effectively organize the defense, Clichy has a tendency to get burned out of position every now and again.
Rosicky captained the Czech Republic while they were the second-ranked side in the world and filled the role in a reasonable fashion for the Gunners when called upon.
Rosicky’s injury problems and lack of pitch time in the recent past have pretty much put an end to any chance of Rosicky wearing the armband again at the Emirates. In the unlikely event he stays beyond the summer, that is.
Robin Van Persie
First captaining the Gunners in the 2009 FA Cup against Plymouth Argyle, the Dutchman has worn the armband here and there for Arsenal since then.
A deadly striker with superb dribbling ability, van Persie is a captain very much in the leader by example mold. That being said, he has displayed a troubling propensity towards petulance at times, something unfitting of a captain.
The Russian international has captained Arsenal a number of times, but with speculation running rampant over a summer switch, it is likely he has seen his last match as a member of the Gunners.
He displayed blistering form at times, but lately has seemed to be showing signs of slowing down.
Acquired on a controversial free transfer from bitter London rivals Tottenham, Campbell played an integral role in Arsenal’s defense during the middle of the previous decade.
Having captained Tottenham, England and Plymouth—in addition to Arsenal—Campbell is a distinguished field leader. He perhaps suffers in this list because of the sheer volume of terrific captains Arsenal has ran out in the past.
The Ivorian was a much beloved figure during his tenure with Arsenal, and when he signed for Manchester City in 2009, it was a day of mixed emotion for Arsenal fans everywhere. He was a master organizer of the defense, and a spirited and passionate player.
Toure was named vice-captain under William Gallas, but his public feud with Arsenal’s primary captain may have limited his time with the armband.
Although perhaps the greatest Gunner of all, Bergkamp was never quite cut out for the role of captain. He clearly lacked the capacity to be a vocal leader, and his fear of flying in airplanes—earning him the moniker of “The Non-Flying Dutchman”—isn’t exactly captain-esque.
His leadership by ability was unquestionable, but Bergkamp was never going to be a regular captain.
Making over 400 appearances for Arsenal, Seaman is clearly one of the greatest goalkeepers in club history. Manning the space between the sticks behind Dixon, Keown, Adams and Winterburn, Seaman formed the backbone of the the Gunners fortifications.
A strong fill-in captain, the crowning moment of Parlour’s matches wearing the armband was without question the 5-1 throttling of Inter Milan at the San Siro on November 25, 2003—it was the Italian giants worst loss in 47 years of European competition.
Never a glamorous player, Parlour was known as a fan favorite.
A tremendous center back, Keown was known for his tough tackling and wealth of tactical knowledge. One of the best one-on-one defenders of his generation, Keown filled in ably as captain when called upon.
Silva made his debut as Arsenal captain on October 18, 2005 after several seasons as part of the Gunners squad. The Brazilian received the armband even more following the departure of Thierry Henry for Barcelona in 2007.
Silva, who still plays with Brazilian club Gremio, is a versatile midfielder who was primarily utilized in a holding role by Arsene Wenger. He was a crucial member of “The Invincibles,” playing in 32 of 38 games that season.
The tenure of the French defender as Arsenal’s captain was marked as much by controversy as it was by his stellar work at center back for the Gunners. That’s an unfortunate fact, as Gallas was a tremendous force during his time with Arsenal.
His captaincy was born in controversy, and that is the way it ended.
When Gallas was officially appointed captain on August 9, 2007, Arsene Wenger came under fire for the decision, as many people assumed that the armband would go to Gilberto Silva.
In November of 2008, following an interview with the Associated Press in which Gallas revealed details of the club’s internal dressing room squabbles and criticized Arsenal’s younger players, the Frenchman was permanently stripped of his captaincy, and the armband passed to Cesc Fabregas.
Gallas moved to White Hart Lane in 2010, becoming the first player to appear for Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal.
Fabregas is, of course, Arsenal’s current field leader, and has been since 2008. Shortly after gaining the coveted armband, however, he was sidelined for four months with a knee injury against Liverpool.
The devastating creative midfielder would suffer a leg fracture in the Champions League semifinal first leg against Barcelona—before scoring the equalizer in what ended a 2-2 draw.
Without question one of the finest players in the world, the Spaniard’s moments of brilliance have been somewhat tempered by the club’s lack of silverware, questions about whether Fabregas possesses the required makeup of a captain, and rampant speculation about a move back to Catalonia and Barcelona.
Henry not only Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer but also led the team in scoring for more consecutive seasons than anybody else. Henry’s run of seven seasons (1999-00 through 2005-06) edges Ian Wright’s six (1991-92 through 1996-97).
The French legend and current Red Bull New York man became Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer while wearing the armband, and was simply a brilliant sight to behold in a Gunners jersey. Arsenal made the Champions League Final in 2006, but were defeated by Barcelona 2-1. Henry also scored a hat-trick in the final match at Highbury to secure fourth place for Arsenal.
While his leadership by example was ... well ... exemplary, if there can be a criticism of his captaincy, it’s that he wasn’t quite the player he had been prior to donning the armband.
The French midfielder will always hold a special place in the hearts of Gunners fans simply because he captained “The Invincibles,” helping them to record their historic undefeated campaign in 2003-04. Vieira wore the armband as Arsenal went a record 49 matches without defeat.
He was a hard tackling beast of a player with good technical ability on the ball and a knack for scoring goals. Vieira netted the winning goal against Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup final on a penalty. It would prove to be his final match for Arsenal.
Wearing the armband for the Gunners for a remarkable 14 seasons, Adams truly epitomized everything that a captain should be. Ascending to the captaincy at the age of 21 in 1988, he skippered the Gunners to four league titles, three FA Cups and two League Cup wins. It’s little wonder that Adams is as revered a figure as any in club history.
Along with Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon and Steve Bould, Adams formed the fabled “Famous Four,” and his organization of the defense played a vital role in the effectiveness of the unit.
Adams played his entire 22-year career with Arsenal and was the greatest captain in club history, despite suffering through a public battle with alcoholism later in his career.