Wanted: A Leader
There was a moment against Blackburn, just after Song had put into his own net. It repeated itself when Koscielny did the same. On both occasions both players raised their arms, shrugged and looked about to see all their team mates doing the same.
It looked like a care home when lunch time is 15 minutes late. People walking about confused, no idea what`s happening to them or what they`ve done to deserve it. In a care home somebody would walk in and tell them 'your lunch is late;` a leader. During the Blackburn game the only thing that stirred Arsenal`s defenders out of their malaise was the ball going back to the centre circle. There was no leader.
Robin Van Persie is an excellent player and no doubt a good captain. He represents the club with integrity at all club functions, but a leader is different, and a leader he is not. When Gervinho decided, instead of passing to him in an acre of space, that he would try to waltz around 7 defenders in a square cm, Van Persie just stared at him wide eyed, confused.
Van Persie does his own thing. That usually involves something special that results in a goal, and that`s the way it`s supposed to be. He doesn`t trouble himself with sorting out defenders and nor should he. That`s a leader`s job.
These leaders make a difference. But more than that, a leader can shape a team around his image. When Patrick Viera was leader the team was a mixture of Gallic flair and African strength. Artists on the ball, warriors in the tackle.
All the great teams need a leader, and those leaders represent what makes the club tick; the way the team plays. Barcelona have Puyol as captain, but their leader is Xavi. He dictates the club. Tika-taka, mouthy and constantly pushing at the boundaries of fair play. Messi, like Van Persie is great, but no leader; he operates in his own sphere.
Gary Neville was a leader for United. Always sending the same message as the manager; 'nobody likes us, we don`t care.` He played the chip on the shoulder Northern stereotype like an Oscar winner. No matter if it was hammed up, it infiltrated the rest of the team. United always play as though they`re just waiting to say 'we told you so.`
Jagielka is Everton`s leader. It`s no coincidence that Lescott took so long to get his game back together after leaving Jagielka`s side. Since Steven Gerrard`s injury problems started Liverpool have slipped from second in the Premiership, to out of Europe and spending £35m on Andy Carroll in a desperate attempt to show they`re still a force to be reckoned with.
A leader gives a team a 'revert to type` a safe option.
If Chelsea struggle one glance towards John Terry and they know to kill the game. To go back to grinding teams down.
Arsenal have lacked a leader for too long, and yet in their ranks they have a young player who could define the club in his image; continental flair with a very English spirit. A man who is a fan as well as a player. Who only wants for one thing; for Arsenal to pick up trophies. Jack Wilshere might be young, but then so was Tony Adams when he took the captaincy, and that never stopped him screaming in the faces of established internationals.
He might be injured, but giving Wilshere the captaincy would send a clear message; take responsibility for your own performance. Until this team has a leader performances like the Blackburn game could well be the norm.