Purple Pain, Contract Extensions And Captaincy Candidates
The latest Arsenal storm on Twitter followed the club’s unveiling of the new away kit – a garish concoction of purple and black stripes with red border sleeves. It’s called Purple Reign, which I thought was quite cool. However, reading some of the comments on my timeline suggests many Gooners thought of it more as Purple Pain.
It’s different from anything we’ve had in the past. The 2007-08 maroon and black is probably the closest in terms of design. I definitely like this kit, but what’s with the pink goalkeeper’s outfit? Perhaps it’s an intentional ploy to distract opposing strikers. After the record number of goals we conceded last season, Szczesny certainly needs all the help he can get.
The most interesting part of the kit release was the players featured in it. New recruits Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski both modeled, with Poldi in particular looking like he means business. Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs are in there too but significantly, so are Alex Song and Theo Walcott. With both players’ contracts up for negotiation at this time, perhaps is this a sign that progress is being made on that front?
Of course, it would be foolish to read too much into it – after all, they are contracted to Arsenal and have to discharge their responsibilities. This time last year, Samir Nasri was part of the pre-season tour and we all know how that worked out. Still, in a week that’s seen such a lot of negativity surrounding the future of our players, I take this as a sign for cautious optimism.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Alex Song will continue to grow as an attacking threat. Last season, his understanding with Mikel Arteta and the Spaniard’s defensive acumen allowed the Cameroonian to express himself more freely. There’s a far better all-round footballer beneath the label of ‘holding midfielder’ and his importance in Arsenal’s engine room should not be underestimated.
Theo Walcott continues to be an enigma. It’s difficult to work out whether there’s more to come from him or if he’s reached his max level. While he had a pretty decent season in terms of goals scored and assists provided, it’s the games he doesn’t score or assist in that are the worrying aspect of his game. In that respect, he’s a bit like Andrey Arshavin – you hardly notice him when he’s having a bad day. I still feel he has one or two blinding seasons in him, and hopefully his wage demands will be reasonable enough for Arsenal to agree an extension.
With Robin Van Persie practically out of the door, Arsene Wenger will be acutely aware of avoiding further squad disruptions. Both Giroud and Podolski are likely to play important roles in the team but with a brand new forward line, the manager will be keen to keep continuity elsewhere on the pitch. For the club, the best scenario is to extend Song and Walcott’s contracts now and then take stock at the end of next season. Of course, it requires the players involved to agree as well and one hopes Van Persie’s public outburst has not caused these two to have second thoughts of their own.
RvP’s departure would open up an interesting debate about the captaincy. Arsene has never really placed much emphasis on that position, unwisely in my opinion, preferring to give the captaincy to the best player in the team. Unfortunately, in the last couple of seasons the best player has then left the club. This has the double effect of not only having to deal with the loss of a talisman, but also the negative impact of losing a captain – both on player morale and fan perception. Unlike the past two seasons however, it’s not clear at present who our best player is – there are certainly a few contenders.
Jack Wilshere has potential as a future captain but let’s not forget that he’s missed an entire season. At his age, it would be wise for him to concentrate on his development as a footballer than to be burdened with the additional load of captaincy. Thomas Vermaelen is vice-captain and has displayed leadership abilities, but I am not convinced his performances last season make him an automatic choice along side Koscielny in the centre of defense – inspite of the goals he scored. While he’s still marginally ahead of Mertesacker, the Belgian’s inconsistency could have an impact on his captaincy as well.
For me, Mikel Arteta would be an ideal choice. He’s a definite starter, he’s vocal, an organiser, always involved, someone who brings a calming influence to the team, is highly respected and interacts well with officials. It’s no coincidence that Arsenal only managed one win without the Spaniard last season, his leadership sorely missed during January and April/May. Also, there is no danger of him seeking higher ‘ambitions’ at the end of next season as this is certainly his last big contract. And being the thorough professional that he is, I don’t foresee any problems if Arsene were to rotate the team.
Arteta would bring a stability Arsenal desperately need from their captain. Thomas Vermaelen could continue as vice-captain, while Wilshere might take on the mantle in cup ties. Of course, Arsene knows his players best and I expect he will choose wisely. Whoever it is, let’s hope the ‘curse of the captain’ does not strike the Gunners at the end of the next campaign.