Robin Is The Main Man And Thoughts On Captaincy
As expected, Robin van Persie has been voted by fans as Arsenal’s Player of the Season. All the accolades he has received over the last 18 months have been richly deserved and his on-pitch contributions are well documented so I will not go into details here.
While the result was never in doubt, the 77.7% votes cast in his favour show how heavily the Dutchman’s individual performances have weighed in the mind of supporters, especially when you consider that last seasons’ winner Jack Wilshere garnered 41%. Hopefully, next season will see a better distribution of votes among the top 5 players which would indicate a stronger all-round effort.
On the club website, Arsene Wenger spoke of the Dutch striker’s season:
Yes [he has exceeded my expectations], not on the quality of his games though because I expect a lot from him. It is purely football technically. The way it goes beyond my level of expectation is the number of goals he has scored.
Certainly, the most surprising thing besides the goals he was involved in was the way Van Persie handled the captaincy. When he was handed the armband on Cesc Fabregas’ departure, it was widely regarded as another appeasement exercise by the manager. However, Robin took to the role like Popeye to spinach and his positive influence on the team in that regard should not be overlooked.
During the interview, Arsene also provided an interesting insight into his thinking on the captaincy:
The best way to be a captain for me is to be a fantastic player; that is the best way to get respect in your team. He did that remarkably well.
This has been an area of some debate in recent years. Arsene prefers to empower his players with a sense of personal responsibility and hasn’t always acknowledged the importance of having a leader in the team. Since the departure of Patrick Vieira, the armband has been handed to either the MVP of the team or the most experienced player. Arsene’s surprise at how well Robin has done as captain is proof that the latest decision was also based more on footballing attributes than leadership qualities.
Arsenal have visibly suffered in the past from a lack of authority when things turn bad. The captain has to positively influence others when the chips are down while his conduct off the pitch also needs to be exemplary. You have to say that Van Persie is the only Arsenal player in years who has managed to do that on both counts.
Of course, the danger with appointing a striker as captain is that it makes it difficult for the manager to change things around if he then hits a rough patch. But if Van Persie does extend his contract, I expect he will start dropping deeper in a season or two and play more in the Bergkamp role so that would remove some of the goal-scoring burden from his shoulders. If he does go through a rough period then, you feel it would not affect his captaincy as much as if he were leading the line.
If Robin van Persie is moving on, Arsene Wenger must use this as an opportunity to hand the captaincy to player who may not be the most skillful but is hard-working, disciplined, influential, calm under pressure and highly respected by team mates. Mikel Arteta anyone?