Ranking every Arsenal captain of the Premier League era
Arsenal can legitimately claim to have had two of the best captains in the Premier League era – but they have also had a few unsuccessful leaders.
Martin Odegaard is the current holder of the armband and is following in the footsteps of Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira…and plenty of others who were rather less successful in the role.
Here are the 14 permanent Arsenal captains from the Premier League era, ranked by how well they fared with the armband.
14. Granit Xhaka
Xhaka’s appointment wasn’t widely welcomed by the fans, but the Switzerland international won a players’ vote to become skipper in September 2019.
However, while he may have had the backing of his team-mates, Xhaka’s relationship with supporters took a severe turn for the worse just a month into the role when he was booed off by them at the Emirates, sarcastically waving back and appearing to tell them to f*ck off as he trudged off during a 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace.
After just 10 games with the armband, he lost the role in November 2019 and was replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It really didn’t go well.
Still, after being stripped of the captaincy, Xhaka did really well to restore his legacy with Arsenal before he departed for Bayer Leverkusen. He leaves with good will.
Tactical substitution, fans cheers, Xhaka removes Captains arm band and throws it to @Aubameyang7, it falls, his reaction and strolling off the pitch gets fans angry, boos start, he ear cups and tells fans to fuck off, removes his shirt and walks through the tunnel. #NotMyCaptain pic.twitter.com/Wj2tMALPkW
— Celestine Mbaluka (@mbaluks) October 28, 2019
13. William Gallas
Most Arsenal fans were disappointed when Gallas was given the armband in 2007, and the defender didn’t do a lot to prove them wrong.
Indeed, the lasting memory from his spell as captain was when he sat down on the pitch and threw a strop after a 2-2 draw with Birmingham in 2008.
After he publicly criticised his own team-mates later that year, Arsene Wenger finally had enough and stripped him of the captaincy.
Lehmann on Gallas at Birmingham: “After the match, he refused to leave the pitch but sat down in the centre circle like a sulky child, until the manager himself came to collect him.” pic.twitter.com/mongfH07ct
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) November 15, 2017
12. Alexandre Lacazette
Despite only having five months left on his Arsenal contract, Lacazette was named club captain in February 2022.
“I think I know a bit about everyone and how they work and how I can manage them,” he said when asked about his approach as captain. “On the pitch, I try to lead and to show that the way we have to press, the intensity because of the coach is asking us [for this].
“But in the dressing room I am more maybe vocal and I want to bring the good vibes and the energy because some days we forget we are playing an amazing sport, we have an amazing job for a big club and obviously it’s natural, it’s human to forget sometimes so I just want to bring some smiles and maybe some good luck.”
While he may have helped the dressing room, the striker didn’t make a big impact on the pitch. Lacazette scored three goals in 16 Premier League starts during his time with the armband as the Gunners finished fifth in 2021-22.
The France international also angered Arsenal fans in April 2022 by admitting that he was talking to other clubs and ultimately left on a free transfer at the end of the season.
11. Laurent Koscielny
After eight successful years at the Emirates, Koscielny was appointed permanent Arsenal captain in 2018 by Unai Emery.
He was soon struck by the curse, making only 17 Premier League appearances in 2018-19 before rejecting a new contract, refusing to travel on their pre-season tour to the United States and then forcing through a move to Bordeaux.
As much as we loved Koscielny for most of the time, judging him purely on his one season as skipper, he can’t be placed any higher.
10. Robin Van Persie
Van Persie took the armband after Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona, and he carried the Gunners to third in the Premier League with 30 goals in 38 league games during 2011-12.
But at the end of the season, he announced that he was refusing to sign a new contract and ruined his legacy by signing for bitter rivals Manchester United.
We’re starting to notice a trend here.
Regardless of your opinion of @Persie_Official, just give this revealing interview 7 minutes of your Saturday as he tells his side of the story about leaving Arsenal.
As he says, it’s taken him almost a decade to be ready to talk about it… pic.twitter.com/2uHbPuEVA3
— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) August 17, 2019
9. Thomas Vermaelen
Vermaelen was a talented centre-back and a natural leader but struggled with injuries during a significant part of his time as Arsenal captain.
Even when fit, the Belgian was behind Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker in the pecking order, finding himself out of the team and club captain from the bench.
He reportedly agreed to join Manchester United before signing for Barcelona in 2014, where he continued to miss games through injury problems.
8. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
After establishing himself as Arsenal’s talisman, Aubameyang was chosen to replace Xhaka as club captain in November 2019.
The striker finished the 2019-20 season with 29 goals in all competitions and led the team to the FA Cup, scoring both goals in the semi-final and the final.
But he struggled to replicate that form after signing a new £350,000 a week contract and was often criticised for his poor discipline and attitude.
The Gabon international returned late from a trip abroad in December 2021 and that proved to be the final straw as he was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy.
“We have made this decision based on certain moments where he has not fulfilled his duties, and that’s it,” manager Mikel Arteta said. “That expectation and commitment that we need from every player, that’s at a different level. That’s why we were forced to make that decision.”
7. Per Mertesacker
Despite knowing he would miss a big chunk of the next season with a knee injury, Mertesacker was named as Arsenal captain following Mikel Arteta’s retirement in 2016.
“Wenger knew how long I was out, but he told me that he still saw me as a big figure for the club and that I was his first choice. I couldn’t believe it. It was huge for me,” Mertesacker told the Daily Telegraph.
“I was really buzzing as it came at the time I didn’t think it was going to happen. You want to be on the pitch, giving advice, making the difference, but sometimes that is not the role and you have to let it go.”
He made only one start all season, but it came in the 2017 FA Cup final as Arsenal beat Chelsea – and that performance alone is enough to put him above some of the other names on this list.
6. Martin Odegaard
“Of course I was happy, proud and grateful for the trust and for him [Mikel Arteta] wanting me to be the captain,” Odegaard said last July.
“That’s a big achievement for me and it’s nice to be part of such a good team, so I’m going to enjoy that.”
And enjoy it Odegaard has; the Norway international produced the best season of his career and for a time he genuinely looked like becoming Gunners captain to lead Arsenal to the Premier League title since Patrick Vieira in 2004. That didn’t quite happen, but he’s still a captain the fans can be immensely proud of.
5. Mikel Arteta
When Arteta was given the armband in 2014, his playing days were coming to an end and he was no longer a first-team regular for Arsenal.
But he had a great influence on the dressing room as Arsenal lifted two FA Cups under his captaincy. As has since become very, very clear, the Spaniard was a born leader.
4. Cesc Fabregas
At just 21 years old, Fabregas became Arsenal’s second youngest-ever captain when he was appointed Gallas’ successor in 2008. Predictably, he was soon ruled out for four months with a knee injury.
But the talismanic midfielder was already Arsenal’s most consistent performer, and although he couldn’t deliver any silverware, nobody could knock the Spaniard’s performances wearing the armband.
After years of speculation, Fabregas eventually re-signed for Barcelona in 2011. Let’s not mention the Chelsea thing.
3. Thierry Henry
Henry was already an Arsenal legend when he took on the armband following Patrick Vieira’s departure in 2005.
That next season he became the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, achieve the unique feat of scoring 100 league goals at Highbury and score a hat-trick in the last ever game there.
He captained the team to their first Champions League final in 2006, and though he missed a lot of the next season through injury before leaving for Barcelona, he left with his hero status intact.
2. Patrick Vieira
Viera had huge boots to fill when he took over as captain from the legendary Tony Adams in 2002, but the Frenchman did a bloody good job at it.
He lasted three seasons before leaving, which is more than most on the list, but more importantly he captained the club during their incredible Invincibles campaign of 2003-04 and scored the winning penalty in the 2005 FA Cup final win over Manchester United.
That proved to be his last kick for the club before leaving for Juventus.
1. Tony Adams
Adams was given the armband at just 21 in 1988 and remained as Arsenal captain until his retirement 2002.
The defender oversaw an incredibly successful period, captaining the Gunners to two First Division titles, two Premier League trophies, three FA Cup triumphs, two League Cups and one European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Adams led by example on the pitch and epitomised everything that a captain should be.