Is it time for Wenger to bring Vermaelen back into the side at Arsenal?

Arsenal’s 5-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday leaves manager Arsene Wenger with some decisions to make ahead of the Gunners’ visit from Manchester United this Wednesday.

Arsenal were ‘poor’ and ‘passive’ said the manager following the game and few would disagree with that, especially after going in 4-0 down to the home side in the first half.

Arsenal were poor as a team and as individuals were second best all over the park on Saturday and Liverpool were nothing short of sensational on their home turf. But, it must be noted that the Gunners facilitated their play and Brendan Rodgers’ side in many ways out-Arsenaled Arsenal.

The Gunners were poor defensively as well as all areas of the team in general but it was just 12 months ago when a similarly disappointing result at White Hart Lane against North London rivals Tottenham saw Arsene Wenger drop captain Thomas Vermaelen from the team and the skipper has rarely returned to the line up since.

The pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny has been formidable this term and over the last 12 months since March 2013 but is the defeat on Saturday cause enough for the boss to bring the skipper back into the team that face the Premier League champions at the Emirates in midweek?

Mertesacker has averaged 1.5 successful tackles per game in the league this term but on Saturday made just one out of his three attempted challenges for the ball (33.3% success rate).

He made not a single block over 90 minutes, made two interceptions, one foul and won just one of his two aerial duels (50% success rate) but was 100% successful in his 8 clearances which is more than his average of 6.6 clearances per game this season. His pass completion rate has been 92.9% this term but on Saturday it was down to 88.5%.

Meanwhile, Laurent Koscielny has averaged 1.9 successful tackles per game and he kept his consistency somewhat, making four successful out of five tackles in the game (80% success rate), he made one block, 8 out of 8 successful clearances (more than his average of 7 per game this term).

He made three interceptions, won three out of four of his aerial duels (75% success rate), made three fouls and operated a pass completion rate of an outstanding 100% (34 passes out of 34).

Given these statistics (which don’t tell the whole story but give an overlook of it) I don’t believe that either Mertesacker or Koscielny should be dropped on account of that performance, especially given that they had little assistance from their midfield, fullbacks or forwards across the 90 minutes.

However, one man who I think should be replaced by the skipper is Mikel Arteta who had one of his worst performances in an Arsenal shirt at the weekend. What’s more is that the manager doesn’t have the alternative of Mathieu Flamini available due to suspension but, in my humble opinion, Vermaelen should come in to operate that holding role and protect the back line behind.

Arteta made four successful tackles out of five (80% success rate), he made one interception all game, just two clearances, won two out of two aerial duels (100% success rate), made two fouls, but, crucially, his passing was way below his usually impeccably high standards but he wasn't pressing, he wasn't hassling, he wasn't limiting Liverpool's opportunity to penetrate the back line and, thus, they did again and again.

The Spaniards’ pass completion rate this term has been 92.2% and he has been playing with that level of consistency for the last decade in the Premier League but on Saturday it was down t 90% which is still very high but most of the passes he misplaced (9 in total) were costly.

Whether he was suffering having just come back from a calf problem is unknown but I believe the Gunners have, against lesser opposition, gotten away without having an enforcer in their midfield trio.

When Flamini plays, the Gunners have much more assurance at the back and Arteta is undoubtedly one of the Gunners best and most consistent performers but, then again, so was Vermaelen in seasons passed.

I think the skipper should come back into the side to ensure the North Londoners don’t get exposed by the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj on Wednesday in the manner they were against Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Gerrard and Coutinho last weekend.

If Arteta needs a rest or if he simply had a bad day at the office, there is still no doubt it cost the Gunners – not just three points, but their lead at the top of the table and with the fixtures they’ve got coming up, they can’t afford to self-destruct the way they did last weekend in the coming weeks.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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