The 27-year-old Belgian fell down the pecking order last term following a string of high-profile errors in critical fixtures with Arsenal and was subsequently dropped by manager Arsene Wenger in March of this year as the Gunners headed out to the Allianz Arena to face Bayern Munich.
The Gunners won 2-0 in Germany on the night and then went on a ten-game unbeaten run that saw the central defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny emerge as a formidable force in Wenger’s back line.
This term Vermaelen suffered an injury that saw him unavailable for selection in the first three league games of the season. He returned as a late second half substitute in mid-September against Sunderland then sat on the bench for five games in succession. The Belgian was again a late substitute against Liverpool a fortnight ago and then started his first game of the Premier League season against champions United.
Per Mertesacker’s illness rendered him unavailable for the clash, which the Gunners lost 1-0 in uninspired fashion. Vermaelen was strong, at least according to Wenger who praised the club captain in his post-match interview but, despite his acknowledgement from the boss, did he do enough to reclaim his place in the first-team?
The captain’s pass completion rate was very impressive – 91.3% of his attempted passes found a teammate. He was 100% successful in his tackling over 90 minutes, made four crucial interceptions, no less than 10 out of 10 successful clearances, and won 4 of his 6 aerial duels (66.6% successful). He committed just one foul over 90minutes (on the halfway line) and was fouled twice higher up the pitch to earn the Gunners two free-kicks.
The only goal of the game, scored by former Arsenal captain Robin van Persie, was not Vermaelen’s fault but rather a lapse in concentration from Aaron Ramsey who failed to pick the Dutchman up from a United corner midway through the first half. Meanwhile, the league leaders had their fair share of chances to level the score over the duration of the game but looked a little bit fatigued and uninspired in front of goal.
Overall, Thomas Vermaelen ad a strong game – just as his boss asserted – and the decisive defeat was not the captain’s fault whatsoever but, nonetheless, I would suspect that when Per Mertesacker returns to full fitness after the international break, he’ll line up next to Koscielny. Why? Because Arsenal had been on a 9-game unbeaten run in the league (winning 8) with that pairing and the first instance Wenger was forced to change it, they lost which, unfortunately for the Belgian, will likely mean he loses his place.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald