Arsenal are set to kick-off their pre-season preparations in the United States without their leader in sight.
Laurent Koscielny’s demand to stay at home during The Gunners’ tour of the US leaves Unai Emery’s squad skipper-less going into the new campaign with the Frenchman’s future still up in the air.
And the longer Arsenal continue to draw out the ‘saga’ (not helped by bravely choosing to berate the defender for his actions), the longer the club will be seemingly left without an authoritative figure to assume his duties.
Emery may be obliged to experiment with his squad as is customary during pre-season, but the behaviour of his supposed captain will have left him with the kind of selection headache no manager would want ahead of the new campaign.
The role of captain is hardly one you can audition for. The qualities required will be attributes that Emery and potentially, avid watchers of the squad would be able to determine through players’ attitudes, traits and passion for the badge.
And after assessing the current squad on those metrics, the list of possible replacements for Koscielny seem arguably bare.
Granit Xhaka is a regular starter under Emery, and was one of his five main captains (alongside Koscielny) which he outlined before the start of last season. But with fans not fully on his side throughout his Gunners career, having the Swiss leading the team long-term may risk further damaging the rapport between supporters and their prospective captain.
With Petr Cech retired and Aaron Ramsey no longer a Gunner, the only other of those five, Mesut Ozil, on the other hand, played a lesser role last year and a goal involvement rate fairly unsatisfactory for someone in his position to hold down a place in the team for the sake of overtaking the role of the captaincy.
Meanwhile, adding the weight of the armband to more left-field options like Hector Bellerin or Lucas Torreira may be an unnecessary hindrance to players continuing to develop as they approach their prime years.
So who will be on hand to rally the troops and boost morale in times of need? How will the club move on from disappointments and setbacks without someone to look up to when Arsenal get themselves in trouble? Where will the club’s youngsters go for guidance with the team’s most experienced heads not at the club anymore?
The result could leave Emery without an answer. Whereas previous Arsenal squads had the backup of Dennis Bergkamp and Gilberto Silva in the absences of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, the current lack of players of that ilk mean Arsenal could have to find inspiration from somewhere unexpected – or face a future without the leaders to drive them towards success.