Archive for December 28th, 2006

Is Captain Fantastic The Real Deal?

49 comments December 28th, 2006

When Patrick Vieira left, Thierry Henry was the obvious choice to replace him as captain. Like Vieira, he had become an iconic figure; a living emblem of Arsenal football club.

But even more so than that, there was no other option. Sol Campbell was a reserved figure, Ashley Cole was too young (dodged a bullet there, eh?), and Dennis Bergkamp was not playing regularly. And there was one final factor: when Patrick Vieira took over the captaincy, it had applied extra pressure on the midfielder to say at Arsenal. Wenger clearly hoped the same would be true of Henry: that the lure of responsibility would keep him at the club.

And so it did. But even as Henry became the club’s greatest ever goalscorer, even as the club reached their first Champions League Final, doubts were being raised over Henry’s captaincy credentials. Some said the team lacked leadership, that Henry’s own performances were being affected, that centre-forwards (if you can call Henry that) make bad captains, and that the weight of responsibility was too heavy on the striker’s shoulders.

But Henry was Arsene’s Golden Boy. After the difficulties with keeping him at the club, he was hardly going to strip him of the armband, rightly or wrongly. And what’s more, with Kolo Toure still lacking in organisational qualities, there was no obvious alternative.

And then came Gilberto. With Henry injured/(dropped?), Gilberto has taken over the armband, and not only have the teams performances improved, but his own individual displays have been nothing short of superb. Take a look at the goals he’s scored recently at the bottom of this article, for one: the man has as many Premiership goals as Andy Johnson and Obafemi Martins. Watford on Tuesday was a perfect example. In one minute he produced an unbelievable tackle to deny Ashley Young, and shortly afterwards nodded home the opening goal.

Arsene has moved to praise the Brazilian, saying:

“He is unbelievable. He dictated the game in the middle of the park and now he is slowly getting the credit he deserves. He is a guy who is intelligent and always plays one or two touch. When he does not have the armband you don’t see that. Our first alert came when he was out injured for some months. We had a problem to win games but when he came back we won again. Now everybody is realising how important he is for us.”

At the moment, the team are very popular with the fans – nobody can fault the effort and desire that Gilberto has typified in recent weeks. And therefore, it is not a surprise that some people want to maintain the status quo, and keep Gilberto as captain.

But are we being simplistic? Does the armband really harbour supernatural powers that turn Gilberto into a goalscoring machine? Of course not. What is possible, however, is that when handed responsibility, he steps up to the plate and performs according to the pressure. Perhaps Henry does not share those characteristics, but at the end of the day, should it matter who is wearing the little black bit of cloth? As a senior member of the team, Gilberto should step up to the plate in every game. Admittedly, the same goes for Henry.

For reasons I’ve outlined, the captaincy won’t be taken of Henry. And I would be extremely surprised if he were to relinquish it of his own free will. But we should celebrate the possibility of having more than one leader on the pitch. At one time we had Seaman, Adams, Vieira etc. all in the same side. Now it is the time for Lehmann, Toure, Gilberto, and Henry to take up the reigns.

The man of the moment, Gilberto, has told the press that we’re beginning to get to grips with the physical side of the Premiership:

“Last season we would have struggled in these kind of games but now we are showing great character and we are doing what is needed to cope with these tactics. In my opinion we have been perfect in our last couple of away games because we have coped well with high balls and still played our own game when we have been in possession.”

This Arsenal side are bit like a new foreign signing. Exciting to watch, obviously very talented, but still learning the ropes in the hurly-burly Premiership… except that Arsenal have been in this league since it’s inception, and probably shouldn’t have to be going through that process. Never mind.

Speaking of foreign signings yet to adapt, Julio Baptista should start at Sheffield United on Saturday, with Emmanuel Adebayor missing with a thigh strain. And speaking of Adebayor, anyone with ArsenalTVonline should check out this 15 minute interview with the striker. Imagine how many words he can fit into 15 minutes. Talk about value for money. In it, he talks about how he got his bad reputation at Monaco, and why Emmanuel Eboue is the craziest man he has ever met. If you pester me enough, I may type up the highlights of it for you tomorrow.

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