Arsenal got three more valuable points today but their display was far from convincing and they struggled to break down a depleted, if resilient, Bolton. We know that the injuries to Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky leave the Gunners short on pace, experience and creativity but for me one of the most worrying aspects of their display, and their season, is the lack of leaders and personalities in the team, especially when things are not going well.
When William Gallas was replaced by Cesc Fabregas as captain, Arsene Wenger was eager to make the point that he no longer believed in a team having one absolute leader. Instead he argued that the role of the captain was more of a profile role, when what a team really needs is 11 captains out on the pitch.
There is a case for this argument as surely 11 people all trying to influence and motivate the team is better than relying on one man trying to do it all himself, in the way that Steven Gerrard has had to do so many times for Liverpool over the years. But what Wenger seems to be ignoring is the impact that one great act by a captain can have on his team and this should not be underestimated.
I am currently a quarter of a way through a trip taking in Dubai, South East Asia and Australia over a period of five months. At the moment of writing this I am in Sydney and had the pleasure of catching the last two days of the third and final test match between the two best cricket sides in the world, Australia and South Africa.
Now I understand this has nothing to do with the Premier League or football at all but stay with me. For those who don’t follow cricket, Australia have dominated the world scene for the last 15 years or so. Over this period they have enjoyed two ‘Golden Generation’s’ of players. And by ‘Golden Generation’ I mean genuine world class players, unlike the so-called current ‘Golden Generation’ of footballers in the English national team.
However that era is coming to an end and South Africa are close to become the number one nation in the world and ready to dominate over the next couple of years. They won the first two test’s of this series, meaning they had won the series and became the first side to win a test match series against Australia in Australia since 1993.
This meant that the third and final test was meaningless apart form a few moral victories up for grabs. Australia salvaging some pride in front of their home crowd and for South Africa a win would confirm them as the number one team in the world. But for South Africa, the most important thing was that they had won the series and it was job done already.
The South African captain is Graeme Smith and he is a born leader. As a child he excelled in most sports and became South African captain at just 22 years old. During this series he has carried an arm injury and has taken painkilling injections everyday just to make it on to the field. During the first innings he got a blow to his hand which forced him to retire and his hand put in a plaster cast.
On Wednesday afternoon with 30 minutes of play remaining and Australian on the verge of victory, Smith ripped off the cast, borrowed kit from his teammates and strode out into the middle to try and save the game for his country. It is worth mentioning at this point that South Africa had no chance of winning the game, Smith went out to avoid defeat, despite the fact that South Africa had already won the series.
His act can be seen as either foolish, risking further injury, or heroic, putting himself on the line for his team regardless of the pain he was in. He batted with pretty much one arm and with 10ball’s left he was bowled out.
His act had been in vain but he set an example to his teammates that showed how far he was willing to go for them. What he did got the whole ground on their feet and at that moment I was reminded why I love sport. It is a shame that display’s such as this are so rare, especially in the world of football where it seems that all aspects of decency, respect and sporting behavior have been lost.
While I’m not suggesting that Eduardo forgets that he nearly lost his leg or that Rosicky plays despite his chronic hamstring injury but the players like Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Eboue and Denilson are no longer teenagers or untried talents, they have been at the club and around the first team long enough and its time they stood up and showed some character.
Against Bolton it was once again Robin Van Persie who drove the team on but there were still too many passengers who seemed scared to take hold of the game. If Wenger eventually decides to dip into his transfer kitty this January, he will need to look for more than just skill, pace and technique if his Arsenal side are going to win anything again soon.
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