The 27-year-old Belgian centre-back was dropped by manager Arsene Wenger for the Gunners trip out to the Allianz Arena in March of this year when they beat eventual European champions Bayern Munich 2-0 on the night.
The North Londoners exited the competition ultimately but saw an improvement in form and focus following the win that saw them go ten games unbeaten at the end of the season to qualify for the Champions League against their archrivals.
The pairing at the back of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny emerged as something of a formidable force in Wenger’s backline and the French boss has understandably been reluctant to change it which has seen Vermaelen’s opportunity and status reduced significantly.
Since the 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane last season on March 3rd Vermaelen has started just 2 games for Arsenal across all competitions (both starts were League Cup matches this season) – he has been on the bench for 13 games, injured for 5, and brought on as a substitute in 5. That’s a total of 23 games out 25 that the club captain has not started since that North London derby.
To compound that, at international level, Vermaelen is skating on very thin ice – the Belgium captain and formerly first-choice centre back has strong competition from Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, and Toby Alderweireld for his place in Marc Wilmots’ team for the World Cup.
Vermaelen still wears the armband for club and country but bare in mind he has started just one out of the last five international games for his country as well as two out of the last 25 for Arsenal.
With this fall from grace and the World Cup just round the corner, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Vermaelen asked to be moved on in January – somewhere where he will be able to play first-team football on a regular basis but, crucially, I very much doubt Arsene Wenger will allow him to go.
Arsenal only have three senior centre backs at present with fullback Bacary Sagna capable to cover if need be but that’s still very light at the back for a club playing in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup. Even without the League Cup, that’s short a few bodies at the back.
There’s no way Wenger will let Vermaelen leave the Emirates and disrupt the equilibrium in January – he’s contracted until the summer of 2015 and I very much suspect he’ll have to wait until this summer to move on (if that’s actually what he wants) by which time he may have fallen down the pecking order for his country.
He was Ajax’s best defender and Belgium’s too upon his arrival in North London in 2009 but the Mertesacker-Koscielny partnership has jeopardized his position and with one year left on his contract, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was sold this summer. There is, in my humble opinion, no way Arsenal will let their captain go in January.
image: © ronmacphotos