With Laurent Koscielny refusing to travel with Arsenal to the USA on pre-season tour, it’s time to ask: Is the club and their captains cursed?
When Arsene Wenger took his side through an entire league season unbeaten it was such a remarkable achievement that, looking back at what’s happened since, you have to wonder if he sold the club’s soul for that 2003/04 season. Things certainly haven’t kicked on as one might expect. Arsenal started a slow, grinding decline on the pitch and the role of captain at the club has been handed around like plague-soaked rag given to the next player likely to leave.
Rather than giving the armband to players who are best suited for it, Arsenal have often used the captaincy as a bribe to get players to stay.
Once Patrick Vieira left for Italy in 2005, it really started to go wrong. First, it was given to Thierry Henry. Sure, he is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer but by the time he got the captaincy he’d reached levels of arrogance that made him harder to like. He left two seasons later after captaining us to a Champions League final defeat.
Then, for reasons we will never understand, William Gallas, already causing a sacrilege by wearing the number 10 shirt, showed us just what a bad captain really looked like. He was at the club for three years before he left for Spurs on a free having been stripped of the captaincy after only one season and his one-man sit-down protest at Birmingham.
Jens Lehmann even admitted they couldn’t believe that Wenger had made him captain. Nobody could.
Cesc Fabregas was next up and it could be argued this was a decent call but, of course, he ended up leaving too but not before going on strike. At least he managed three years with the armband even if its powers did turn his legs to silly string the longer he wore it.
It was then handed to Robin van Persie, a player who had been cursed by injuries without the pressure of the armband. Miraculously, it seemed to infuse him with some sort of heavenly power as he finally found fitness and form before screwing the club, trying to turn the fans against it, and buggering off to Manchester United where he won them the league a year later.
Thomas Vermaelen has perhaps paid the heaviest price of all Arsenal captains. He wore the armband for two seasons before leaving for Barcelona as well. A great player until he was handed the small bit of cloth, he made only 60 appearances as captain and has played just 65 times, averaging 55 minutes per game, since he left the club for Spain.
It then found its way to Mikel Arteta who was a superb choice in theory but, again, showed himself to be more of a non-playing captain. He held the position for two seasons before he was forced to retire because of his injury problems. Arteta played just 416 minutes in his final season as Arsenal captain.
Laurent Koscielny was certainly a choice all Arsenal fans could get behind and the Frenchman really looked like he had found a way to end the curse. Of course, as we now know, he hadn’t. He’s had the armband for three years now and in that time he’s suffered thigh problems and a facial smash plus his Achilles exploded causing him to miss France winning the World Cup. Now, he’s on strike to force an exit from the club.
If Unai Emery thought he could side-step the problem by naming five captains when he first arrived then he was wrong. He just made things worse. Only two now remain if we assume Koscielny will leave and both drive sections of the fanbase nuts while also being linked with moves away.
If the club could find someone daft enough to pay his wages, Mesut Ozil would join Aaron Ramsey and Petr Cech in leaving this summer. That leaves Granit Xhaka, one of the few players to improve at the club under Emery but a player still prone to the most ridiculous brain farts you wonder how he manages to work out how to put the armband around his arm sometimes. Of course, despite all this, there is no such thing as a ‘curse’ even if it seems like there is.
The Arsenal captaincy is a microcosm of the club as a whole and who it goes to next may well give us an indication of how things are likely to unfold in the coming seasons. With three captains going on strike in the last 12 years and two being stripped of the honour, assuming that happens to Koscielny, can any player currently at the club turn it around?