Since 2004-05 we have witnessed two types of disappointments. Firstly the years without trophies despite the fact that we have played trophy-worth games on four occasions (Community Shield 2005, League Cup 2006, 2011 and, the most important one, Champions’ League 2006) only to end on the losing side with an identical scoreline – 2:1. The second might have been one of the reasons for the lack of silverware – our armband has been passed around too many arms in the previous 8 seasons.
The wandering destiny of our armband have caused people to make sour jokes about how we should have made Squillaci or Chamakh as our captain in order to lose them ASAP. Here are the stories of our recent captains and we will start with the current one, the captain that is still playing for Arsenal.
Arsenal Fact File:
Name: Thomas Vermaelen
Born: November 14, 1985, Kapellen, Belgium
Position: Defence – center-back, left-back
Previous Club(s): Beerschot AC U19, RKC Walwijk, AFC Ajax Amsterdam, Arsenal FC
Joined Arsenal: July 1, 2009
Total Appearances: 122+3
Total Goals: 15
Total Assists: 5
It might be too early to say that Thomas Vermaelen is going to follow the path of his predecessors but it is safe to say that the current position of the Belgian defender casts doubt over his future in an Arsenal shirt. Despite the fact that he has been promoted from vice-captain to captain after Robin Van Persie decided to cash in on screams from his inner child, he has found himself dropped to the bench recently and was there ever since our winning streak started. It would have been hard for him to break back into the starting 11 had Mertesacker not received his red card against West Brom.
Ever since he joined Arsenal, Vermaelen has looked suspicious. He was signed as a central defender from Ajax (where he left as captain) in the summer of 2009 but his physical presence hasn’t struck fear into opponents. One of theinternet-comments from back then regarding Vermaelen was: “He has excellent technique but he is as strong as a little girl.” In the league such as the Premiership in which physical power is an important element, Vermaelen’s future didn’t look promising.
Still, his Premiership debut was one a dream. He found himself on the score-sheet and we won at Goodison Park 6:1. We also won our next match against Portsmouth with Vermaelen grabbing himself an assist but the two consecutive defeats in away matches against FAnchester United and Chelsea were a bit preview to what kind of career Vermaelen will have in an Arsenal shirt when it comes to the big matches and against strong world-class forwards like Rooney and, especially, Drogba.
He scored an own goal in the reverse fixture against Chelsea and managed to grab a consolation goal against FAnchester United in the matches that resulted in two heavy defeats. All in all, Vermaelen had an excellent debut season ending in the PFA Team of the year alongside Cesc Fabregas and his unusually high goal-scoring record for a defender (7 goals, none from the penalty spot) certainly helped him to reach that accolade.
During the season that resulted in a series of disappointments which were usually connected with terrible defending, Vermaelen gave a lot. Aside from the horror-tackle from Shawcross that nearly ended Ramsey’s career there were also four defeats in four matches against title rivals, the end of the 11-year-run against Spuds without defeat, a terrible April and May run-in, Fabianski’s performance at Dragao and Messi’s performance at Camp Nou, Vermaelen contributed a lot – mostly on the other side of the pitch. It’s no wonder he earned himself the nickname Verminator.
After a promising debut season, his second was decimated by injury. Vermaelen’s Achilles tendon problems made him miss 33 out of 38 games in the Premiership. Had we had him at our disposal in the matches Squillaci was called up, our 2010-11 maybe wouldn’t be remembered as the season in which we were out of the race for all four trophies in just a fortnight. He returned for our two last games against Aston Villa and Fulham in which we won just one point and lost our third spot to Manchester Oilers. It is interesting to notice that we played well in big matches without Vermaelen – we won home fixtures against FAnchester United, Chavs and Barcelona.
Vermaelen’s problems with injuries kept attacking him in 2011-12 as well as undergoing Achilles tendon surgery. Appointed as vice-captain after Fabregas’ departure, Vermaelen played the first two matches (goal-less draw against Newcastle and home 0:2 defeat to Liverpool) before moving to the sidelines for two months. In that period our defending was terrible with Koscielny and Djourou particularly under-performing. He made his come-back as a late substitute in our 5:3 victory over Chavs at Stamford Bridge. Vermaelen made a decisive block of Mata’s shot when the score-line was 4:3 for us. There is a shocking fact that was the only victory against both Chavs and FAnchester United with Vermaelen taking any part in the match. During the season, Vermaelen had to play at left full-back on several occasions due to injuries to Gibbs and Andre Santos. He was absent in the two consecutive defeats against Fulham and Swansea in January 2012. It’s interesting to notice that our defence conceded 24 out of 49 goals while Vermaelen wasn’t on the pitch (2.4 per match) while with him in our starting 11 we conceded 25 goals in 28 matches (less than one goal per match). Still, we lost to United at home again with Vermaelen being out-muscled by Valencia after Giggs’ cross and in our penultimate match of the season against Norwich the Belgian was the worse part of defending duo – we nearly gave the third spot to Spuds by drawing 3:3 against Norwich.
His overall solid defensive performances were built-up with an excellent goal-scoring record as Vermaelen scored 6 goals and two were worth important victories – he scored again at Goodison Park, this time it was the only goal of the game, and deep into injury time against our rivals for a Champions’ League spot Newcastle in the 2:1 victory at Emirates. The way he scored that goal was magnificent and showed what a determined player Vermaelen is.
The 27-year-old entered 2012-13 as club captain. In the opening matches he seemed to be in a good shape – our defending was excellent and his partnership with Mertesacker flawless. The root of Vermaelen’s problems was our fifth match in the Premiership against Manchester Oilers. Just prior to the match Vermaelen was left out of the squad due to the flu. In one of the best performances of the season, we were unlucky to play out only a 1:1 draw against the reigning champions. Vermaelen returned for the match against Chelsea but this time he was paired with Laurent Koscielny. Is it due to their similar physical characteristics or lack of organizing skills – I don’t know – but that team-up didn’t perform and we lost to the Chavs after Vermaelen gave away soft fouls in dangerous areas and Koscielny demonstrated poor positioning. Vermaelen hasn’t reached his form from the start of the season and his performances in big matches hasn’t been the best either – against FAnchester United he served Van Persie a sitter on a silver plate, against Spuds he was part of the terrible defending that allowed the hosts to score twice in the same fashion and same thing can be said about his role in that first goal we conceded against Liverpool when he missed a clearance and was lucky not to concede penalty for hand-balling in the box. He missed the ball on one occasion against Norwich at Carrow Road as well but Grant Holt didn’t score from the resulting one-on-one.
His left full-back performances weren’t the best either as it could be seen against Bayern and it’s a good thing that – as long as Gibbs and Monreal stay fit (touchwood) – he won’t be needed there again.
As a goal-scoring central defender, he was capable of making up for defensive errors with the goods at the other end of the pitch. This season, however, Vermaelen has scored just one goal in all competitions and it was an equalizer against Bradford. His penalty kick wasn’t that successful as he hit the post to send Bradford through.
Vermaelen was dropped to the bench after the defeat against Spuds in the North London Derby. During his absence, our defense has looked very solid as Mertesacker and Koscielny gave a string of very decent performances in matches against Bayern (again, Vermaelen was absent in our victory against a big team), Swansea and Reading. He made a cameo after Mertesacker’s red card against West Brom and consequently played (reasonably well) against Norwich with the German suspended.
Now that Mertesacker is available once more the decision will be tough as to whether the captain should be dropped or if Koscielny who has been strong of late will be relegated to the bench. The lanky German needs to start as his aerial presence was greatly missed against Norwich.
There were rumours regarding Vermaelen that linked him with a possible move to Barcelona at the end of the season. He would fit into the Barcelona team in terms of ball-playing habits, especially given the fact Puyol is not getting any younger, but recent examples of Hleb, Song and, to a much lesser extent, Fabregas can be a warning to him and any other Arsenal player that would leave London for the green pastures of Barcelona of how hard it is to succeed at Nou Camp.
An Arsenal blogger – The Armchair Gooner – wrote that the armband had a similar effect to Vermaelen as a dart made of cryptonite would have on Superman and it’s hard to say that it was a wrong description. Unlike Van Persie, though, Vermaelen signed a new contract with Arsenal when he was offered an extension until 2015.
Conclusion: Personally, I would like to see Vermaelen stay at Arsenal and guide our team to trophies during the next few years as he has the technique, combative spirit and never-give-up-attitude rounded with a high number of goals scored. If he proves his worth in the matches that we have until the end of the season, I would like to see Wenger issuing a hands-off warning to Barcelona for once. If, however, he fails to recover his best form, I won’t mind if Wenger decides to sell him and re-invest that money in a quality strong center-back.