I couldn’t sleep well last night and instead of doing the right thing and reading a book I turned on twitter. It’s a different world, twitter, at midnight than it is at 8am mostly because the British folks I follow are all waking up and pouring through the morning papers. By the time I normally join them at 8am my time they have settled the controversy and moved on to something fresh.
Most of my British friends were reacting to the news that Arsenal are having both Vermaelen and Monreal targeted (along with Cazorla) by various clubs. And with Arsenal’s defense looking rather threadbare at the moment I can understand the reaction.
I’m fairly certain that Louis van Gaal has put the bug in Vermaelen’s ear and offered the former Arsenal captain a starting role at Man U. My suspicion is that van Gaal wants to play 3 center backs, the formation du jour, and if you play with 3 CB then you really need 5-6 CB in your team to provide cover. The press have been fairly insistent that Vermaelen is on van Gaal’s radar and I can see why. Short of putting in a transfer request (which he may do next) Vermaelen upped the ante on his transfer machinations by spending time with Robin van Persie on vacation (Daily Mail, auto video, horrible reporting).
That said, I doubt that Arsene is going to start the season with two first choice center backs. That would be extremely illogical even for Wenger who loves a gamble at times. I’ve been pouring through Wenger’s quotes over the last few years and one thing I can guarantee you is that he is well aware of the toll that the World Cup takes on his team and team preparation. Mertesacker didn’t play a ton of minutes in Brazil but he has been playing and practicing almost non-stop for over a year now and even the break that Wenger is affording his World Cup winning stars isn’t going to be enough to recharge a player who will need to start another 50+ games this season. The same goes for his partner, Laurent Koscielny.
So, Arsenal have two center backs who are potentially dead tired and just one backup center back who is the former captain, is potentially disgruntled, and looks to be engineering a move to save his career. That’s the worst situation I’ve seen in the heart of the Arsenal defense since Arsenal bought Silvestre and completely understandable that folks would be nervous.
Arsenal have to be well aware of what it would look like to sell Vermaelen to Man U. The board have, no doubt, been hanging on every proclamation by the professional cranks like Piers Morgan all summer. Would Vermaelen be a huge loss, though? Especially if he was replaced with a decent option? That is a tough question.
I have a Vermaelen shirt, which is to say that I loved him in his first season at Arsenal. I remember when he first came to us and he was this raw player who had a steely look about him. But even in his first season there were signs that something just wasn’t quite right about him and his positioning.
Zonal Marking made a rather extensive post about Vermaelen’s problems with communication and with positioning in his very first season. And even boosters like me only had to hope that he would get better the more he played with Arsenal.
Sadly, it never happened. He was injured for a long time and it took several different surgeries to get him back into the first team. Then he was made captain of the club and the same errors kept creeping into his game. In fact, Vermaelen led Arsenal in errors leading to goals in each of his last two playing seasons at the club before he was dropped for Koscielny. I want to be clear, Vermaelen isn’t a crap defender, but rather his style didn’t work well at Arsenal and I suspect it will work very well in a three man back line where he can be more aggressive because he’ll have two other center backs sweeping up behind him.
I don’t think the facts about his career at Arsenal are in dispute. I think what’s in dispute is whether Arsenal can find a replacement at or above his level who is willing to be third or fourth string at Arsenal. That’s a tough sell. Players of Vermaelen’s quality don’t want to make a move to a team so that they can sit on the bench. For that reason alone (and not because it would be “taking the pride out of it, Gazidis”) I’m inclined to hang on to Vermaelen and tell him that he’s just not for sale even if that means biting the bullet on his free transfer next summer.
But just as important as hanging on to Vermaelen, I hope Arsene has identified a young player to come in and take over next summer. Well, maybe not “take over” but rather start to bed in and be prepared to take over as Mertesacker’s role diminishes. I suspect that with the World Cup taking its toll on our Big World Champion German, the young, fresh player might get some playing time right from the start.
It’s been a great summer for transfers at Arsenal so far. We’ve brought in Sanchez and Debuchy and a decent goal keeper (Ospina) is on his way. Arsenal have also been linked with a host of defensive midfielders for two years now so Wenger clearly has his eye on Arteta’s replacement. With Arsenal already approaching £50m net spend, adding a player who can play CDM (and CB in a pinch) whilst keeping Vermaelen would make this easily the most successful transfer window in recent memory.