The burden of captaincy on Vermaelen

Posted by Sam Limbert

Thomas Vermaelen has failed to find top formGettyImagesThomas Vermaelen has failed to find top form this season.

With the postponement of this weekend's match with Everton due to their involvement in the FA Cup, Arsenal fans are having to find ways to fill the week and a half between the derby day defeat and the Champions League return leg against Bayern Munich.

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During the down time I found myself playing in a six-a-side football tournament, something I haven't done in months. Apart from the aches and astro-turf burns, it filled the void nicely. Surprisingly given my lack of pedigree when it comes to playing football, I somehow ended up captaining the team but couldn't galvanise a victory. It was just a friendly competition and my team went into it with low expectations, however standing there as captain, I felt slightly different with the added responsibility.

It got me thinking that whether at grass-roots level or the in the Premier League, contrary to what some people may argue, being the captain of a team still means something.

My strongest memory of an Arsenal captain is of Tony Adams, someone who made sure his performance stood out and was always talking to his players, reminding them of what it meant to play for Arsenal. In more recent years, it seems like the importance of the captain's armband has been slightly forgotten by Arsenal - it has been passed around too regularly.

The team have had three different club captains in three seasons. Since Patrick Vieira left, it has become all too common to see the Arsenal skipper sold on when there was seemingly more they could have done at the club. Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, for varying reasons, have gone out the exit door whilst still the holder of the armband.

At the start of the current season, when a new captain was needed, I fully supported Arsene Wenger's decision to make Thomas Vermaelen the club captain, and Mikel Arteta his vice-captain. The Belgian seemed to have got over his injury problems, and the hope was that he could rediscover the superb form from his first season. After he had been the vice-captain to Van Persie, the change shouldn't have disrupted the team much as Vermaelen was likely to follow a similar style as skipper to his predecessor.

However, his performances this season have left many to question Vermaelen's position in the Arsenal line-up. As seen in 2005/06 with Henry, and last season with Van Persie, sometimes the pressure of captaincy doesn't harm performances, and can in some cases bring the best out of a player. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have had that effect on Vermaelen.

He is being burdened by the armband and losing focus on his own defending because of concerns about all aspects of the team. It can be a difficult situation for the manager if the club captain is struggling as dropping him could make his confidence spiral further downwards, whereas it could help the team to have a change in his position. Arsenal have an able vice-captain in Arteta, so Wenger shouldn't be afraid to play Laurent Koscielny at centre-back and give Vermaelen a break.

When at his best, Vermaelen should be one of the first names on the team sheet and can handle the captaincy as he can lead through his performances. That isn't the case at the moment, so the question does need to asked as to whether he should be dropped. The captain's armband shouldn't be the only reason for staying in the team if not playing well.

Vermaelen certainly shouldn't be stripped of the captaincy for not playing at his best, but releasing some of the pressure off him through using Arteta could help the Belgian get back to his best.

Wenger needs to find a solution to recover the skipper's form as a confident captain will improve Arsenal's creaking back-line and spread belief through the team. And because that little piece of material on the player's arm still holds great importance.

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