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Ranking four future captains within Arsenal's squad

By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)

Starting this article was a difficult task for me. Of Arsenal's current squad, there are a sum total of nine players who I debated including. Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli were all in the running, and to choose four of them was difficult enough. The process of ranking them was even more so.

Rather than launching directly into the ranking, I'd like to defend some of the players I eliminated from the process. Ben White was the easiest—he's a talented player to be sure, and a key part of our outfit, but is a new signing and lacks the core leadership skills to be a truly good captain. Martinelli falls into the same category, and is also slightly too raw to consider for the position any time soon.

Now on to the difficult decisions. Omitting Bukayo Saka was honestly the next easiest—our Starboy doesn't need that extra pressure, and besides, he's only 20—and Gabriel followed closely behind, mostly due to his still-tenuous grasp of English and his penchant for a rash decision. He's a force at the back, and an excellent leader, but still has room to grow within the squad. The final omission was by far the most difficult.

Aaron Ramsdale has been nothing short of a revelation for Arsenal this season. Taking us all by surprise with his abilities in possession and command of his area, he has become a talisman of our squad, keeping a whopping eleven clean sheets in the league alone, a total only bettered by Allison and Ederson, the two best 'keepers on the planet. He's also endeared himself to Arsenal fans with his honest tone and playful interviews. On the surface, he has all of the building blocks to become captain in the future, but his position is his biggest drawback. Though a goalkeeper wearing the armband is far from a rare sight in the Premier League, Arsenal have never had a captain between the sticks, and with Arteta inclined to hand the armband to those further up the pitch, I don't see that changing.

Now, the moment you've all been waiting for. On to the true ranking.

4. Mister Consistency: Takehiro Tomiyasu

Despite the fact that he has spent fewer than six months at the club, Tomi is already showing freakish levels of consistency through all phases of play. He's technically secure, rarely turns the ball over, and is a talented one-vs-one defender with excellent positional discipline. Though he's not the most vocal player, every time he steps on to the pitch, he gets the job done.

The 23-year-old is already showing the sort of consistency that can win over a dressing room, and has the hardiness and fortitude to be at the club for the long-term. I picture his long-term role as the second-coming of César Azpilicueta, albeit altogether more likeable. He has the same quiet confidence around him, and, I honestly believe, has a much higher ceiling than Chelsea's long-serving Spaniard.

Given the proper circumstances and depth at the club, Tomi could become a 38+ match player for Arsenal, and I think that value cannot be overlooked. Add to that his burgeoning role in the functioning of our most dangerous attackers, and there's a serious case to be made once the last cycle of veterans moves on from the club.

Honestly, I've always had a soft spot for players who fly slightly under the radar, example A being Rob Holding, who I haven't even included in the honorable mentions, an omission which pains me. But Tomi has proven himself the sort of player who can prove very dangerous should you even consider overlooking him, and I enjoy the thought of such a player wearing the armband.

3. The Dynamo: Emile Smith Rowe

It's crazy to think that Smith Rowe has been making appearances for Arsenal since 2018, given his very tender age of 21. But since his introduction to the team, wearing the No. 55 on that hideous all-red kit, he's drawn powerful comparisons to some of the best all-round midfielders in the world, including the best of that category, Kevin De Bruyne.

But it's not his superlatives that make him captain material. Rather, a combination of his technical prowess, playing ability, and intangibles compose my case for the Croydon-born midfielder to wear the armband.

For starters, he's one of the most consistent passers in the league this season, and combines a wicked level of two-footedness with a constant presence on the ball. He's a triple threat of dribbling, playmaking, and shooting, and nowhere is that more evident than in Arsenal's goalscoring charts, which he currently tops. His trademark darts down the left flank, late runs into the penalty area, and knack for a crucial goal, have drawn comparisons to all-time Premier League greats, but he has truly begun to make the left half-space his own this season.

And when it comes to the intangibles, his dedication to the club presents itself immediately. Per Mikel Arteta, Smith Rowe has undergone a completely new dietary and fitness routine this season, and has upped his personal intensity in training. A player who came through Hale End with a reputation as a bit of a luxury player, Smith Rowe has completely rewritten that narrative, as is plain to see through his pressing intensity and passion on the pitch. Such progression could be rewarded, I might argue, with a chance to lead the side as captain in the future.

2. The Maestro: Martin Ødegaard

The Norwegian is actually the player who spawned this article concept in my head. Unlike our current crop of youngsters, the 23-year-old has massive experience at both national and international levels, having played a major role at Real Madrid earlier in his career, before exploring the continent on a series of loan moves. He also currently represents his national team as their captain, despite what most would consider to be a still-tender age.

His name has been making the rounds on Twitter recently in relation to the captaincy—shoutout to Ross Kennerly, friend of the site and editor of PainInTheArsenal, for his convincing case—and it's a case with some serious merit.

Ødegaard is the creative and technical leader of this Arsenal side, and arguably the most multifaceted player in the squad—his tactical role has him alternating between playing right midfield, centrally as a No. 10, at the No. 8 position, and sometimes as a second striker, and he does all of those with aplomb and confidence. He is without a doubt the most talented passer within the team, and he brings a majesty and sparkle to the side that we seriously lack otherwise.

There's a reason that his place within the team has been nearly unquestionable in recent months. He's a natural leader, has the respect of his teammates and manager, and generally knits the attack together at his best. And like every player on this list, he's destined to keep getting better. Though he may not be as talismanic as Saka, Smith Rowe or Martinelli, he is a better leader and generally fits the profile of both on-field and off-pitch behaviour necessary to be a captain.

1. The Incumbent: Kieran Tierney

Since he signed for the club, there truly has not been a better candidate for the future captaincy than Kieran Tierney. He exemplifies the "pashun and desiyah," and general ferocity that both players and fans look for in a leader, and he's already an unbelievably vocal player within the side.

I could wax lyrical about his crossing ability, our reliance on him to help break the press, and his impeccable defending, but I don't need to. You all know how unbelievable he is. Since genuinely day one, he has been touted to replace Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and though Lacazette has been elected in the stead of the Gabonese, he'll be gone come July.

Come Arsenal's first Premier League fixture next August, I honestly expect Tierney to be wearing the armband. He's dependable, talented, humble, and generally represents everything Arsenal, both on and off the pitch. I can't imagine anybody better for the armband than KT3.

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