The Belgian centre-back had previously been one of the Gunners’ most reliable first-team stars – a key player for manager Arsene Wenger, not just because of his defensive qualities but also for his leadership capabilities.
However, the skipper seemed to have lost his form and confidence this term. The 27-year-old made a number of unforced errors at the most inopportune moments such as his slip at Old Trafford allowing Van Persie to score in the opening minutes of the game.
He desperately lacked concentration across the whole season – he was exposed and out of position on numerous occasion, clumsy in his tackling and subsequently gave away needless free kicks in dangerous areas to the opposition.
His characteristically composed, focused and determined displays in previous season seemed to have completely abandoned him and following Arsenal’s defeat to North London rivals Tottenham, Vermaelen was dropped by the manager for the majority of the season’s run-in.
In the meantime, defensive paring Laurent Koscielny performed exceptionally well in the captain’s absence. They were on the losing side just once in Arsenal’s entire 2013 run in (as a unit they were beaten just once in 17 games).
However, the captain has not taken the manager’s decision as harshly as some media outlets had anticipated – rumours linking his with potential moves away from the Emirates this term seem wide of the mark if his comments on his future this week are to be taken at face value.
"I didn't play much and that was frustrating, but things can turn around quickly," he explained.
"I was on the bench, but I could just as quickly be playing again. I'm working hard to make that happen."
"These are things that happen in professional football. Arsenal are a great club where there is a lot of competition," he added.
He acknowledges his form had been poor and he seems to have taken his high-profile drop from the team as a challenge. He is incentivized to win his place back in the team next term.
His manager Wenger recent spoke to the press about the ‘shortermism’ that tends to cloud the judgment of the game’s movers and shakers at the highest level. The boss was actually speaking in relation to the sacking of Roberto Mancini at Manchester City however much the same could conceivably apply in the case of his own captain.
Whilst Kocielny and Mertesacker have made a fine pairing in Wenger’s backline this term, form is temporary, as is fitness – having Vermaelen available and ready to fight for his place is exactly what the Gunners need – healthy competition for places.
Competition ensured the focus and commitment remains in the players who are picked and should, in the case of professionals at the highest level, inspire those who are competing to up their game to impress the boss.
It was in fact Wenger who once said, “form is temporary, class is permanent” and, in his captain, the boss has a player who demonstrates that principle aptly – the captain may have lost his way this term but he has taken it with class, dignity and decorum.
His attitude is exemplary and his quality is undeniable. He still has a very big part to play at Arsenal and, by the sounds of it; he’s hungrier than ever to win back his doubters.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald