Former Arsenal striker Kevin Campbell has backed new head coach Unai Emery to sort out the Gunners’ long-standing leadership issues with the help of a more organised structure — even though he doesn’t see any Tony Adams-type figures in the current squad.
Arsenal’s lack of strong leaders was often highlighted during the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, especially when the team’s away form fell apart this past season as the Gunners limped to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League.
Emery now inherits a squad without a captain as Per Mertesacker has retired, while vice-captain Laurent Koscielny — who normally wore the armband on the pitch in the last two years — is out until at least December with a torn Achilles.
But Campbell, who played for George Graham’s well-organised teams from 1988-95, said Emery’s more disciplined approach will naturally create more vocal leaders on the pitch.
“I think you look at leadership in two different ways. Everyone talks about the leaders like Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira, but those players are not easily available,” Campbell told ESPN FC.
“I think the second way you can get leadership is through organisation. When different parts of the team are functioning properly, players within that system will be the leader. And I believe that’s the way Unai Emery is going to do it.
“I think they’ll be well drilled, there’ll be certain triggers, and in order to have a trigger you’re going to have to be able to communicate.
“And that’s where certain players are going to have to take that leadership role on. The Tony Adams days, the Patrick Vieira, etc., Arsenal won’t have that type of player. But I think it will be a more organised structure.”
Wenger was often accused of giving his players too much freedom on the pitch while not providing enough tactical instructions, which Campbell said was part of the reason they struggled so badly in away games last season.
Arsenal lost 11 of their Premier League away games, including seven in a row after the turn of the year.
“There were certain things that never got addressed,” he said. “We always talk about how the spine of the team got weaker.
“But really, the issue was that Arsenal without the ball just didn’t have that structure, especially away from home because that’s when you rely on your actual system, your structure, and the players being able to implement what the manager wants.
“We were just so open at times it was scary. I’m sure Unai Emery will definitely make that side of the team a lot better.”
The captaincy has been another issue for Arsenal in recent years, with Wenger repeatedly handing the armband to players who were no longer first-team regulars — like Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta and Mertesacker.
Campbell, who had Adams as captain for his entire Arsenal stint, said Aaron Ramsey may be the best choice to take over the armband, although he did not rule out Emery looking to the transfer market to find strong leadership figures.
While times have changed since Adams’ days, Campbell said having that figurehead is still important.
“You’ve got to look at the time and the players who were there [in Adams’ time]. The leader had to be strong and had to be someone who was fierce and fearless.
“Because as a team we were fierce and fearless. So your leader couldn’t be soft. Your leader had to be tough and a permanent member of that squad.
“But for the last four, five years, Arsenal went soft, and it’s showed itself in the league standings.
“Aaron Ramsey ticks quite a lot of boxes [as captain]. He’s one of the longest-serving players in the first team. If there’s a structure, Aaron Ramsey could be that guy.
“But I wouldn’t put it past Unai Emery going out and finding a player that fits his criteria, who can come in and lead the football club.
“If you don’t see a captain type figure within that club, then you have to go out and recruit one.”
That could already be happening, as Arsenal are hoping to add two defensive veterans in Borussia Dortmund centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Campbell said these are exactly the type of signings the Gunners should be looking for.
“They need experience and toughness. Because that is everything that Arsenal have lacked,” he said.
“That experience and that toughness and being able to go away and grind out a victory at one of your rivals, Arsenal haven’t done that in years. So that type of experience and knowledge is key.”
Mattias is ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.