Arsenal Focus – Solid defence calls for Vermaelen reinvention

With a top four finish having been secured and that familiar post-season cautious optimism wafting through the corridors at the Emirates Stadium, it’s an unusual situation that sees Arsenal unsure over the future of their club captain, Thomas Vermaelen.

However, while skippers are usually pivotal to the achievements of their teams, Vermaelen was a frustrated observer for the run-in of the Gunners’ Premier League season. That inactivity has led to rumours about his future in north London, with Barcelona rumoured to be circling overhead.

But just how did the Belgian international, one of Arsene Wenger’s most consistent player in recent seasons, find himself out of favour in the last campaign? And is there anything which can restore him to a regular place in the starting XI?

Wenger is now insistent on playing Per Mertesacker and one other in his Arsenal defence. The towering German is indispensable to this team, as the manager probably discovered all the way back in September. With his side facing Chelsea, Wenger benched Mertesacker, worried that his languid style would have the trio of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar licking their lips. He went with Laurent Koscielny and Vermaelen; they endured a difficult afternoon.

With Mertesacker a regular fixture nowadays, it was between Koscielny and Vermaelen for the other spot in central defence. And while the captain was a shoe-in due to his seniority, the mistakes soon crept in – giving Koscielny a platform to perform. Indeed, this season was the Frenchman’s best since arriving from Lorient in 2010; his agility and reading of the game acting as the perfect counterbalance for the dominating Mertesacker.

The new-look backline will surely have added insult to injury for Vermaelen; expelled to the bench after a season of own goals, mix-ups and fluffs, one of which allowed Robin van Persie in to score at Old Trafford for Manchester United in his first game against his former employers.

Though Wenger had originally praised the former Ajax man for his reaction to being dropped, there must be questions over how long Vermaelen will be willing to stay and fight for his place. At 27, he’s theoretically entering the peak of his years as a defender and won’t be keen on seeing them wasted on the sidelines – particularly with his country hoping to be at the World Cup finals next summer.

But Arsenal should think outside the box, and look at how the team down the road at Stamford Bridge dealt with David Luiz. Fully stocked up on defenders and unconvinced by his composure, Chelsea pushed the Brazilian into a defensive midfield position where, with his tendency to bolt forward, he has thrived.

With the Gunners still ruing another Abou Diaby injury and nursing the niggles of Jack Wilshere, could Vermaelen be moulded into a red and white Luiz? It’s a left-field suggestion which might keep the captain happy and fill a gap in the squad.

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