It’s a strange fate being handed the skipper’s armband at Arsenal – it seems to cue a transfer in one way or another.
In the case of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie it preceded their transfers to Barcelona and Manchester United respectively and with Thomas Vermaelen it set about a complete fall from grace at the Emirates.
The 28-year-old Belgian arrived from Ajax in 2009 and instantly became a hero with the fans for his work at centre-back.
He was solid, reliable, tough, committed, determined and he even got his name on the score sheet every now and again. It was little surprise following the sale of Van Persie in the summer of 2012 that he was handed the armband by Arsene Wenger.
What did come as a surprise was his complete dip in form – I wouldn’t even call it a dip, it was more of a nose-dive into the abyss, and subsequently he was dropped in March and barely returned to the starting line up since unless either Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny have been injured, ill, or suspended.
Incidentally, in the games he has started this term, Arsenal have lost one (Manchester United), drawn one (Chelsea) and won one (West Ham) – their form with him in the team is as inconsistent as the performances were last year that got him into this predicament in the first place.
So, should he stay or should he go? He’ll likely be asking himself that right about now, especially with the World Cup just around the corner this summer and some intense competition for places in the Belgium national side from Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, and Toby Alderweireld. He can’t get a regular starting place for Arsenal and it’s looking increasingly likely he won’t for his country either.
If he wanted to leave or asked to leave there would undoubtedly be clubs around Europe interested in him but, then there’s the question of what would Arsenal do if one of the other two senior centre-backs got injured? They would have to resort to deploying Bacary Sagna there and even he is not guaranteed to be there for long with his contract up this summer.
If Wenger sells Vermaelen, he would then have to bring someone else in and that someone else would have to be a player of equal quality who understands he will be on the bench if the other two are fit and available. How many top-level centre-backs with a good attitude, work rate and desire are going to sign up to sit on the bench?
Or perhaps the Gunners could replace him with a younger player who can develop under the wing of Mertesacker or Koscielny but that’s still risky if one or both of them are unavailable – then you would have Sagna and a newly-arrived rookie as your pair and that wouldn’t be ideal either, especially in the midst of title challenge.
Then again they could just keep Vermaelen, hope he fights for his place, keeps himself focused and comes in to cover when he’s needed to (which he will be as the season progresses) and forget about the fact his contract expires in 18 months.
Whatever Arsene Wenger decides, it’s unlikely to be the best news for Vermaelen who is resigned to sitting on the bench for the most part at Arsenal and could end up the same position in Brazil this summer.
One way or another, at some point in the near future unless he seizes a chance and has a remarkable turnaround in fortune, Arsenal are going to need to think about buying a top-level centre-back to replace the one they have in Thomas Vermaelen.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald