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Is it time to accept the Arsenal Captain’s Armband is merely a Formality?

By Daniel Finton (Deputy Editor)

The dictionary definition of formality is, “a thing that is done simply to comply with requirements of etiquette, regulations, or custom.” Sadly, as more and more years pass by, it appears as if the Arsenal captain’s armband is reaching the point of being nothing more than said described word. Though it is not just Arsenal that sees the symbol that once was a staple of every side in world football diminishing to a meaningless rubber band that the most popular players are awarded, it is fair to say the gunners are a prime example of how leadership within the game is fading away.

Players like Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira were leaders on the pitch, whether they were given the captains armband or not. Now individuals with the X-factor are priceless- players born with leader mentality are an insanely rare breed. When the invincibles were around, almost every player in the squad was capable of donning the captain’s armband, what happened?

At the moment, I can really only think of two players within the Arsenal dressing room who could be described as leaders, David Luiz and Hector Bellerin. Luiz has been around for ages and reports have stated that he is a massive figure in the dressing room, and everybody likes him. The Brazilian is vastly experienced and he knows the ins and outs of the strange game of football better than most. Bellerin may not be viewed as or deemed as a conventional leader in the same way as Luiz, but has shown at critical points that he is one. At times of adversity, such as when the players at the club agreed a pay cut earlier this year during the Coronavirus conundrum’s climax of sorts, the Spaniard directed the negotiations and successfully reached an agreement that saw the club become the first to agree a wage cut.

Leaders are present at the club, but with all due respect to Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, in my opinion, though he is a world class player, and a positive presence, I would not classify him as a captain or an archetypal leader. Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Mesut Ozil have all worn the armband this season and in all honesty, none of the three are leaders. This shows that the armband is often viewed as nothing more than a formality. What if we did not have to pick a captain, and it was not required every game, would we still?

Despite Aubameyang being awarded the captaincy game in and game out, the figurehead is not the guy barking orders at the rest of the squad. While there is an argument that he is leading by example, players like Bellerin and Luiz lead by example as well, and they also emphatically verbalise their thoughts throughout any given 90. The Spaniard and Brazilian do this because that is who they are, and neither seem to care that the armband is wrapped around another player's bicep rather than either of theirs.

Truth be told, as much a romantic and lover of the classic game I am, I’ve come to the somewhat depressing conclusion that the captain’s armband at Arsenal, and moreover in many teams, is truly nothing more than a formality. A leader has no desire to wear an indicator portraying the fact that they are the commander, they lead because they feel obliged to. Players today are driven by their own needs and wants, as they should be to be fair.

For the longest time players could be open with showing admiration for a club, now they can’t because their club will utilise that and try to use it against them in contract negotiations or something like that. Players do not now want to lead a team because they are too busy marshalling the trek to get what is best for them as an individual. The invincibles were all leaders because they probably felt like they were fighting for a team which they loved, and it loved them back, and would never do anything to hurt them. Now players love is saved for their own best interest given how frequently they’ve seen it used against them in the past from the clubs that once did not objectify them.

Mikel Arteta was the last notable club captian we had, and he was such an impressive captain that we did not even know that he possessed leadership attributes. He loved the club, but moved in silence leading it. Players like Tony Adams made it known that they were the captain of the ship, Arteta led by example and through vocalisation behind the scenes.

Maybe Arteta can rediscover the true meaning of the Arsenal captain’s armband. If there is anyone who can, it is a man who used to hold the title. However, there is also a possibility the game has moved past the traditional team captain, and now each player is expected to know what they’re supposed to do without a fellow player telling them on the pitch. As much as I love the idea of another Tony Adams and moreover a mock 2 “Mr. Arsenal”, it seems as though football has progressed past the nostalgic beauty that is a proper armband donning leader.

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