Since the exit of Patrick Vieira in 2005, one thing, among many others, Arsenal have lacked is a vocal, forceful leader. The three captains the club has had since then do not fit that bill.
Thierry Henry never was a true leader. He was named captain because it made too much sense. He was the best player at the club, and was the longest tenured player at the time as well. I always thought Sol Campbell should have been named captain, as Sol was a forceful leader. Wenger probably felt that Campbell didn't need the armband to be a leader, and the armband gave Henry more incentive to lead, and also stay at the club.
William Gallas caught everyone off guard. Everyone knew about Gallas' short temper and his past with Chelsea, so it was a huge surprise when he was named captain after Henry's departure to Barcelona. Gilberto and Kolo Toure appeared to be the obvious choices then, but Gilberto wasn't even a first choice player that year. Toure would have made a lot of sense. With the club since 2002, Toure was a staple in the back for Arsenal, and was a favorite in the locker room and among the fans.
Gallas didn't have to leave the captaincy taken from him. It was given to Cesc Fabregas in November 2008, only 14 games into the '08-'09 season. The armband made sense around the left bicep of Fabregas, but whether or not it was truly effective is a different story. With all the speculation of his status with the club, especially during the '10-'11 campaign, fans never really knew how long Fabregas would be around, something fans shouldn't have to think about when it comes to the club's captain. According to comments made by Arsenal players in regard to Fabregas' move to Barcelona, he was a great role model for the younger players, but on the pitch he might not have been the best choice to captain the club.
So now the question is, who is going to captain the club? Really, there are only three choices for me.
Jack Wilshere may only be 19, but he truly is "Arsenal through and through." I would say give it to Wilshere because he is the only player that definitely will be with the club in 7 or 8 years, but he is, as I mentioned, only 19. That would be quite the ask of the young guy, who is only in his second year of being a first-choice player. It will happen one day, but we won't be calling Jack "Captain Wilshere" very much in the near future.
The other two choices are more realistic, and make more sense.
Thomas Vermaelen is only in his third year at Arsenal, but he appears to be captain material. Already having captained Ajax during his time there, and being the captain of the Belgian national team. He is going to be one of Arsenal's most stable players, in that he is consistent in his play, and he will be at the club for years to come it appears. Because it is only his third season it is unlikely he'll be given the armband full time, but he will be one of the first choices to deputize as skipper.
Chances are the next Arsenal captain will be Robin Van Persie. Having joined the club in May 2004, Van Persie is the club's longest tenured player, and has already worn the armband on many occasions, including the club's first league game in Newcastle against the Toon Army. Van Persie is a very passionate player, which is shown by his reactions to his goals and misses on the pitch. He has had a few character issues and problems with managers (i.e., with Bert van Marwijk at Feyenoord), but that is all behind Van Persie, and he's now likely going to be the captain.
Not only will Van Persie be the captain, but no matter what players Arsene Wenger may bring in, the team will go through their new captain. He will easily be the club's most influential and skilled player. Van Persie's ability on the ball to not only score, but create by passing and maneuvering the ball around his feet like very few can.
Van Persie had a breakout season last year, scoring 18 goals in 19 starts in the Premier League, including a run of nine consecutive away fixtures with a goal. He will score goals along with creating for players like Gervinho, Walcott and Arshavin this year, as they all are capable of scoring at least double-digit goals. Without Van Persie, Arsenal will not be the same team, as they'll have to go through Marouane Chamakh, who is not Van Persie by any means. The fact that Chamakh is Arsenal's next striking option makes Van Persie all the more valuable, and with his inability to stay fit, that might give Arsenal trouble this year.
This team will go as Robin Van Persie goes this season. There is little doubt about that. If he stays fit, and Wenger does buy the right players post-Fabregas and Nasri, there is a chance that Arsenal will make some real noise in England and maybe even Europe this season.