Time for a change of Arsenal captain?

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Robin van Persie may be the serial saviour of Arsenal's fortunes this season, but the time has come to relieve him of the club captaincy.

It may seem like a daft suggestion for a squad so heavily reliant on their elegant skipper, but Arsene Wenger's players are almost dangerously dependent on a man who remains head and shoulders above the rest of the Gunners' dressing room.

With question marks hanging over the Dutchman's long-term future at the Emirates Stadium, even after Van Persie's reassurances in Sunday's match-day programme that he will hold talks with the club at the end of the season, Wenger must sound out another successor to take the armband.

Arsenal need an old-school leader, someone that will scream at his teammates for 90 minutes, throw his body on the line and put fear into the opposition. Some one in the vein of Patrick Vieira or Tony Adams.

However, captains like that are very rare these days, especially in top level European football. Someone who leads by example, who is calm and understands the game well, are the attributes that most clubs now look for.

Any successful team needs to have several leaders on the pitch, but what really makes a good captain? They must understand the philosophy of their manager, and have an innate knowledge of what they, and their teammates need to do. In times of need, a captain is the player that the rest of the squad can turn to.

Van Persie certainly inspires confidence in the current crop of under-performing Gunners stars. Rarely has a single player been so fundamentally important to the prosperity of Arsenal Football Club.

With 29 strikes in 35 appearances this season, the goal machine turned points machine has far too frequently decided the destiny of Arsenal's games over the past 12 months. Where would they be in the Premier League without him?

The club's pursuit of the £30million cheque that accompanies Champions League qualification via a top-four finish this year rests largely on Van Persie staying fit and in such prolific form.

Their progress thereafter, as a club moving forward and looking to continue competing in the higher echelons both domestically and in Europe, hangs on whether or not Arsenal can retain the services of their instrumental striker.

"There have been a lot of stories, generally contradictory ones, about my contract situation recently so I'd like to make it clear," said the 28-year-old in his programme notes, prior to Sunday's memorable 5-2 north London derby victory over Tottenham.

"There's nothing complicated or sinister - the club and I have both agreed to speak at the end of the season and see how things stand. The boss, Ivan Gazidis and I are all comfortable with it.

"I need all my focus to be on football - on captaining this team, improving every day, doing extra work on the training pitch and preparing for the very busy schedule of fixtures we have. For me, this is a time to play football and not speak about personal things. All of my energy needs to go on getting this team where we want it to be this season."

Arsenal should be applauded for the way in which the club is sustainably run, after announcing another strong set of financial figures with a pre-tax profit of £49.5million over the past six months. That said, Van Persie - whose contract expires in 2013 - must be kept at all costs.

The Dutchman currently earns around £80,000-a-week - a modest salary in the crazy world of modern-day football - and after signing for Arsenal from Feyenoord for a nominal £2.75million fee back in 2004, it's safe to say that Van Persie has repaid his debt to the club.

No doubts then, that a bumper new deal rumoured to be in the region of £150,000-a-week will be seen as a sound investment, and money well spent by Arsenal and Wenger.

The typically frugal Frenchman cannot afford another collapse of his north London empire that has promised so much, yet delivered very little, with the club staring down the barrel of a seventh consecutive season without a trophy, in no small part due to the sales of former captain Cesc Fabregas and creative midfielder Samir Nasri last summer.

Unfortunately for Arsenal though, Van Persie is not driven solely by money. The currency that glitters most for him is silverware. A player of his quality, his class, deserves to be basking in the limelight, with an endless amount of trophies and winners medals draped around his neck.

There is no reason for him to continue his prolonged struggle in the shadow of other clubs, unless he truly believes that Arsenal are on the verge of something special. If his gut instinct tells him otherwise, then the club should waste little time and effort in delaying his inevitable exit, and look for a new captain to take the team forward.

Jack Wilshere, providing he can put his injury woes behind him, would be an obvious choice - the 20-year-old midfielder looks set to play a massive part in Arsenal's future - while Thomas Vermaelen could be a more immediate option; the Belgian stopper ticks all the boxes of what a skipper should encapsulate.

The irony is that Arsenal aren't lacking guidance, nor do they require any more leaders, what they desperately need is more motivated, intelligent and skilled players to steer them back to glory.

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Robin Van Persie
Premier League

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