While Arsenal’s back-line continues to be exposed for its lack of depth this season, manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to part with Thomas Vermaelen in August is one decision which it’s proving hard to fault.
Sold to Barcelona for £15 million, the Belgian defender has seen just 63 minutes of action for the club’s B team so far, having been suffering with a nagging hamstring issue since the World Cup, and director of football Andoni Zubizarreta has admitted that “things are not going well”.
The former Gunners captain suffered a further setback last week after resuming full training, and Zubizarreta concedes that he might now require an operation which could rule him out for the rest of the season.
"We do not know yet if Vermaelen will undergo surgery,” he told Catalan news outlet Sport. “The doctors will evaluate and decide what to do, but you have to look at what is best for him.”
Arriving from Ajax in 2009 for around £10 million, Vermaelen became an integral part of Arsenal’s lineup during his first four seasons at the Emirates but, even then, his fitness record was cause for concern.
An Achilles issue saw him make just five appearances during the entire 2010-11 campaign, while further treatment on the problem the following September saw him miss six weeks of 2011-12.
He would fare better in 2012-13 in his first full campaign as skipper, missing just six matches, but a stress fracture in his back would rule him out for the start of 2013-14, before mid-season knee trouble sidelined him for another 11 games.
No longer an automatic starter in north London at the time of his departure, the 47-times capped international might have been regarded among the Premier League’s top defenders not long ago, but there are clear signs to suggest that his best form is now behind him.
Having just turned 29, that hasn’t stopped rumours of a loan move to Manchester United or even back to the Emirates Stadium from surfacing over the weekend but, in his current state, it’s hard to envisage there being much truth to those reports.
It’s understandable that Arsenal fans don’t like to see the depth of their squad weakened or a clear fan favourite leave but, in Vermaelen’s case, Wenger might just have fleeced Barca.