During the recent Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City, Laurent Koscielny, the Arsenal centre-back, was substituted at half-time. Following the match, Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, revealed that the reason for the substitution was a recurrence of an old Achilles problem that had flared up while Koscielny was on international duty with France.  Wenger said that Koscielny had wanted to play and stay on but that he could not.

Despite Koscielny’s absence, Arsenal battled back to draw the match 2–2, keeping them in the hunt for a top-four finish in the Premier League.  That Arsenal managed to draw the game without Koscielny’s experience was impressive but for them to have done so without a captain was even more so.

During the first-half of the match, Koscielny had worn the Arsenal captain’s armband in the absence of injured club captain Per Mertesacker.  However, following Koscielny’s substitution, none of the other Arsenal players assumed the mantle and wore the captain’s armband in Koscielny’s place.

When asked about this omission, Wenger said that he could not remember who was Arsenal’s designated captain in Koscielny’s absence. Wenger reportedly stated that he had not elected a replacement at half-time:

“No, it is a good question. Nobody asked me who is captain.”

This might seem like a rather odd mistake.  One would expect the selection of a captain to have been something that would have been picked up by Wenger, his support staff and/or the Arsenal players, following Koscielny’s substitution.  Given Arsenal were losing 2-1 at the break, one might have expected that strong leadership would have been high among Wenger’s priorities. Yet this is likely over-analysing what was likely a simple mistake.  This was a vital moment in the club’s season.  The requirement to substitute Koscielny may have taken Wenger by surprise. In the ensuing tactical reshuffle, the decision to elect a captain may have simply fallen between the cracks.

In any event, the failure to replace Koscielny with a replacement captain appears not to have had any detrimental effect on the Arsenal side, who went on to level the score at 2-2 in the second-half, earning a valuable point against their top-four rivals.

Yet this may not be the end of the issue.  The failure to elect a captain for the second-half of the match may technically have constituted a breach of the Premier League Rules.  Rule M.11 states that:

“The captain of each team appearing in a League Match shall wear an armband provided by the League indicating his status as such.”

Consequences of breach

In the scheme of things, the contravention of Rule M.11 may not be considered to be the most egregious of breaches of the Premier League Rules.  That is reflected in the range of possible sanctions available to the Premier League in the event of non-compliance.  Rule M.12 of the Premier League Rules states as follows:

“Any Club acting in breach of any of Rules M.1 to M.11 inclusive will be liable to pay to the League a fixed penalty of £300 for a first breach, £600 for a second breach and £1,200 for a third breach.  Any subsequent breach may be dealt under the provisions of Section W of these Rules (Disciplinary).”

It has been reported that the Premier League is expected to forego a fine on this occasion and that it will simply remind Arsenal of its duties.  Even if the Premier League decided to enforce Rule M.12, Arsenal would have no difficulty in finding the £300 that constitutes the sanction for a first breach of Rule M.11.  This reflects the Premier League’s view on the seriousness of non-compliance.

In view of the relatively inconsequential sanctions that may be imposed in the case of a breach, the question then is why the Premier League has introduced such a rule in the first place.  On this topic, the Premier League Rules are silent.

It is likely that the reason for the rule is to ensure that each side has an elected captain who can be the team’s mouthpiece when communicating with the referee in respect of contentious issues.  During the Arsenal v Manchester City match, there were no such contentious moments in the second half and, as a result, the lack of a captain was not exposed.

While Captain-gate may not be the biggest failure of Arsenal’s season, it is one that Arsenal fans would no doubt prefer not to see repeated.  What is clear is that they will be keen to see the return of a fit Laurent Koscielny as soon as possible, armband or no armband.