Should Hector Bellerin be Arsenal's next captain?
Background image: Ronnie Macdonald, CC BY 2.0
As Granit Xhaka walked off the Emirates pitch in disgruntled fashion on Sunday, a cloud of déjà vu haunted the North London stadium once again. As much as managerial problems have been their downfall, the Gunners also have a serious captaincy issue.
After Laurent Koscielny gave up and flocked back to France, Unai Emery was caught in a dilemma. Who should he burden with the mantle of a false king? Having captained Switzerland at international level, the defensive midfielder Xhaka stood as the ideal option.
The Spaniard even ditched his “multi-captain” rule inserted last season, pinning all his hopes on the unpredictable Swiss. But from day one, this match was by far from one made in heaven. Xhaka has never gone down well with the fans thanks to his error-prone mannerisms and dipping performance-levels will always give supporters something to complain about.
Arsenal fans are just as unforgiving as they are loyal. They won’t be accepting him as a captain anymore. Safe to say, the backlash which has followed means the 27-year-old wouldn’t want the cursed crown anymore. While his reaction was childish, the threats he’s received shows the absolute worst in rapidly accelerating toxic fanbases.
Who does Emery now turn to lift the tension? Well, a certain Spaniard is sitting patiently, ready to become captain. Hector Bellerin lead his side with pride in a frantic game against Liverpool. Having spent eight years at the club, he knows what it takes to flourish as a Gunner.
Bellerin learned about the club's culture under Arsene Wenger, while also adapting well to a stark change with a rare Arsenal managerial switch. He's apt for a leadership role thanks to his vast experience in North London while he knows the fans love fearless, attacking football and uncompromising characters to stand strong against opponents.
More importantly, Bellerin's a fan-favourite. The Spaniard is one of their own, with his unbridled determination to win every battle. There's nothing that goes down better with fans than giving 100%. Perhaps he's the calming factor Emery requires to extinguish the flame. Then again, awarding him the armband means burdening him with pressing responsibilities.
As the 24-year-old himself is trying to find his rhythm back after a gruesome injury blow, piling up the pressure is surely a risk. But he’s someone to thrive under it rather than crumble thanks to the warrior mentality he’s inherited.
Having made 143 league appearances for the Gunners, he’s matured into a much more sensible player than he was before. In his developing years, Bellerin had the reliability of a child with candy, becoming far too erratic for his own good. While he possessed that electricity to charge his side forward, the Spaniard’s aggressiveness often caused malfunctions in the backline for his side.
But with experience, he’s grown into a more sensible defender. Going forward, he’s retained that creative attacking flair, having contributed in 24 goals in his Premier League career. Yet it’s his growth as a defender which has made him even more popular.
After so many years, Bellerin knows how to deal with criticism or the fans’ toxicity having been bashed repeatedly in recent years. He’s remained mentally strong, but more importantly loyal as many offers have come and gone. The right-back is a strong, undeterred individual. His self-belief keeps him going even when the times get tougher.
Emery, of course, has other options to choose from. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette come into mind as the standout choices. But knowing the pressure the armband brings, the Gunners can’t afford to risk their strikers’ losing their scoring touch. They should be allowed to remain expressive in their roles for maximum damage.
Bellerin would actually relish the troubles which come with being Arsenal captain. He knows how to fight for the badge, work himself to the ground and perform according to the needs. But he mustn’t overload himself with work into causing another injury. Those can be the end of his reputation as among the world’s best.
Whatever must be done, Emery must solve this captaincy issue before things blow over. His controversial relationship with Mesut Ozil is already aggravating the fans’ wrath. Handing the captaincy armband to a fellow Spaniard with all the loveable traits etched into him, they can both work together in order to bring normalcy back for the Gunners...