Arsenal Focus – Vermaelen battles for restoration to Gunners’ defence

It’s been a topsy-turvy campaign for Thomas Vermaelen. Appointed as club captain at Arsenal after Robin van Persie’s departure to Manchester United last summer, the Belgian defender started the season in fine form.

The Gunners’ backline, of which Vermaelen was a major part, received praise from all quarters in the opening months of the campaign. The club’s new-found defensive prowess was attributed to new assistant coach Steve Bould, who had allegedly transformed what had been a leaky setup into a rock solid one.

But, gradually, the defence unravelled again. Arsenal conceded three goals at home to Fulham and Newcastle and famously shipped five at Reading in the Capital One Cup. The capitulation at home to Bayern Munich in the Champions League had Arsene Wenger sitting uncomfortably but it was the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur which sparked him into making a defensive change. Thomas Vermaelen was dropped.

The former Ajax man missed the next four games, which all ended in wins for Wenger’s men, but returned to the team for the 3-1 victory over Norwich on Saturday. However, he was promptly placed back on the bench for the stalemate with Everton on Tuesday night, as rumours about his future at the club, or a lack of it, begin to circulate.

Thursday’s edition of the Daily Mail suggests that, despite Arsenal being open to offers for the 27-year-old, Vermaelen wants to fight for his future at the Emirates Stadium. But should the Gunners still look to move him on?

Arsenal are already under-stocked in the middle of defence, with Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker the only out-and-out central defenders available to Wenger. Of those three, Mertesacker has perhaps been the most impressive this season, with his height and dominance giving the Gunners defence something they haven’t had arguably since Sol Campbell.

Koscielny and Vermaelen on the other hand are very similar players and therefore vie for a starting berth alongside the big German. At the moment, Koscielny is the preferred candidate but he is far from indispensable and often goes through patches of poor form. Indeed, he was part of that Gunners backline which was embarrassed at the Madejski Stadium earlier in the season.

On his day, Vermaelen is one of the best defenders in Europe so if the reports are true and he wants to stay in north London and fight for his place then that will be music to Arsene Wenger’s ears. But he has to concede that he is not an untouchable member of the Arsenal squad, with his selection relying on form, no matter what his credentials.

If Vermaelen can accept that and regain his top form in time for the new season, it will be a great boost to the club. Although, with Barcelona allegedly lurking, he may be tempted to continue the tradition of the Gunners’ top players leaving the club for better things.

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