Why Arsenal face a tricky predicament over estranged defender

Thomas Vermaelen has had to settle for a place on the bench while Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny continue to blossom, but for how much longer?

For Thomas Vermaelen, a call-up to duty against Everton and Bayern Munich respectively saw him return to business as normal...or at least as it used to be.

His transition from club captain, defensive lynchpin and most importantly a leader in the Gunners' ranks to little more than a benchwarmer cannot have been easy for a man who has found himself the fall guy of a more well-suited partnership.

Injuries to Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal opened the door for Vermaelen to take to the field in the 4-1 FA Cup win over the Toffees, where he impressed, as well as the 1-1 draw in Munich, which was not enough to keep Arsenal in the competition.

His return into the side was seamless, but there remains a sense of inevitability about his exclusion from first-team matters once either left-back regains fitness, with the Belgian expected to be given a watching brief once more.

It represents a real problem in itself this summer for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman simply cannot offer Vermaelen the first-team assurances he craves and yet the performances the defender put in in two key clashes was enough proof that he certainly still has a role to play in this side.

The Gunners are still at loggerheads with Bacary Sagna over a new contract, with the expectation that the Frenchman will see out his deal and seek pastures new this summer.

A Premier League success or FA Cup win may appease Sagna and his demands but the exit of the first-choice right-back remains highly possible and will result in Wenger hitting the summer shops.

But he may need to visit them for more than one purchase if Vermaelen tries to engineer a departure.

The problem for Wenger centres on the fact he considers Sagna his fourth-choice central defender, a ploy which would be seriously damaged should he leave. 

For Vermaelen to also head out the Emirates exit door would ultimately deprive Wenger, and thus force him into an unprecedented defensive shopping spree to remedy the situation.

It seems the unlikeliest of scenarios that Wenger would buy three defenders given his frugal nature but the paucity of up-and-coming options mean he has a dilemma on his hands with regards to the future of the Belgian.

With Mertesacker and Koscielny's ever-burgeoning partnership refusing to budge, Vermaelen is reliant on injuries or suspension to sneak his way through the back door.

It may even cost him his World Cup place in the Belgium team, if not squad, this summer, a new low which would surely be a personal nadir for the 28-year-old.

Vermaelen showed his class by stepping to the fore when he was badly needed and delivering a couple of performances that contributed chiefly to Arsenal's cup progress and creditable restoration of pride against Bayern.

Now Arsenal must do the same and find a formula to keep their alienated defensive stalwart happy and, most importantly, at the club.

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