The 28-year-old Belgian centre-back was ousted from the team by Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker in March 2013 and has been a peripheral figure at the Emirates ever since. Thomas Vermaelen is now heavily linked with a move to Manchester United and whilst he dismissed rumours a deal had been done, he has now admitted this week that he is uncertain whether he will remain in North London.
"I really do not know where I will play, Arsenal or elsewhere next season," he is quoted by the Evening Standard.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger could be open to letting the skipper go, preferring to keep Koscielny and Mertesacker at the back but which targets could the French coach be looking to bring in as potential improvements on Vermaelen?
1) Costas Manolas
Reports suggest the Gunners could be looking to Greece international Costas Manolas. The 23-year-old Olympiacos centre-back would represent a younger prospect for the future but is undoubtedly a player of quality as evidenced by his displays at the World Cup this summer. At 6ft1”, he would be ideally suited to the physical demands of the Premier League. He made more than twice the number of tackles per game as Vermaelen did last term, conceded fewer fouls, and made three times as many clearances and would likely be a better defender than the Gunners skipper as he matures.
2) Joel Veltman
Another youngster linked with the Gunners is 22-year-old Ajax centre back Veltman who remains at the World Cup as part of the Netherlands squad this summer. The six-foot enforcer also made twice as many tackles as Vermaelen last term, conceded fewer fouls, made more interceptions, and blocks than the Gunners captain and would be another excellent option to develop for the future.
3) Branislav Ivanovic
In terms of experience and quality, Arsene Wenger is reportedly an admirer of this Chelsea stalwart who could be on his way out at Stamford Bridge this summer. The 30-year-old Serbian has functioned as a right-back for much of his career but has recently been deployed more regularly as a centre back. He has an abundance of Premier League and Champions League experience with Chelsea and could be brought in for a very reasonable fee. He would be considered a backup to Mertesacker and Koscielny but could provide quality and reliability that sometimes Vermaelen has lacked in the last 18 months at the Emirates.
4) Steven Caulker
Another Premier League option is this Cardiff defender, formerly of Tottenham, who has also been linked with a return to North London in recent months. Although he is still just 22 he has proven himself a top-level centre back who could well be a first-choice for England in the future and, by all accounts, Spurs were foolish to let him go last summer. Caulker made more tackles, clearances and blocks per game than Vermaelen last term and could likely become a more capable and stable presence in the Gunners’ backline in the future.
5) Benedikt Howedes
Finally, probably the best option of the bunch is this 26-year-old Germany international who is arguably at the same level of Mertesacker right now (excluding the experience of the Arsenal defender). The Schalke centre-back could provide Arsenal with quality, top-level experience, pace, composure and would be a player who could compete with Koscielny and his compatriot for their place which Vermaelen has not been able to do successfully in the last 18 months.