If the Times of London are reporting it as fact it must be true: Thomas Vermaelen, he who has the same agent as Robin van Persie, has agreed to personal terms with Manchester United. Arsenal have not agreed to a transfer fee with Man U, but the player has gone out and found himself a suitor to fill the hole in his life.
First thing’s first, since he’s under contract at Arsenal this could be, probably is, tapping up. That is, unless Arsenal agreed to let him talk to United. If not, then any agreements that the player makes with another club could result in a fine or even a transfer ban. I doubt anything will come of that little fact but that fact exists. While it “happens all the time” it doesn’t make it any less “a violation of the rules.” Kind of like diving.
That aside, the news that Vermaelen is looking for a team after spending a year on the bench isn’t surprising. He probably just wants to move on with his career and at 28 years old is looking for one last big contract. Man U are offering him £100k a week which Arsenal will certainly not match for a player who is a backup center half.
The fact that Vermaelen wants out of Arsenal should illustrate just how difficult it is going to be for Arsenal to get and keep a “sub-world-class” backup defender. Arsenal need to get a player in who is good enough to start at a club like Arsenal and yet OK with knowing that he might not start, ever. That’s a tough sell. That’s why I am not surprised that we haven’t signed a backup defender yet, even though that caliber of player is almost certainly not in the World Cup.
What would be surprising is if Arsene lets Vermaelen go and especially if Arsene lets him go to Man U. The idea that Arsenal would lose Cesc to Chelsea, Sagna to City, and Vermaelen to Man U in the same year is… uhh… not sitting well with a lot of fans. In fact, it’s giving some folks the “right ‘ump”.
Just footballistically it’s hard to fathom the idea that Arsenal would let him go. Sagna was Arsenal’s backup to the backup in the center back role and with him and Vermaelen gone that would mean Arsene needs three positions covered. He could do that by buying a defensive mid who can play center back and a right back who can cover there as well, but if you told me that Arsenal will head into next season with just two outright center backs I would do a facepalm that lasted at least 30 minutes. Maybe even a double facepalm for an hour.
I’m also not entirely certain why Manchester United want him badly enough to risk censure by tapping him up. I know Vidic is leaving but Vermaelen is not at all the type of defender that Vidic is. Vidic is the Mertesacker on that team, Vermaelen is a Koscielny and not even a very good Koscielny.
|Verm 09-10||Verm 10-11 (INJURED)||Verm 11-12||Verm 12-13||Verm 13-14 (7 Starts)|
|Long pass %||62%||69%||65%||55%||78%|
Vermaelen played the sum total of three seasons at Arsenal. His first season he was an instant fan favorite for both his defensive aggression and his ability to score goals.
Vermaelen scored on his debut against Everton in 2009. Then went on the rest of that season and scored 8 goals total for the Gunners including a strike against Man U. But despite his heroics going forward people were already questioning his defensive nous.
As far back as 2010, Vermaelen’s best season at Arsenal, Zonal Marking was calling him out for his lack of positional awareness. It was a scathing review which called into question Vermaelen’s basic defensive ability.
Vermaelen was also lauded for his aerial ability in his first season and I suspect most of that applause came because he won headers for goals. But Vermaelen has actually never been that good in the air. It’s one thing to win a header in a corner situation and a whole different thing to go up against a lump of a center forward and win 1 v. 1. So while he scored a few goals he consistently lost those 1 v. 1 battles.
|Koz 10-11||Koz 11-12||Koz 12-13||Koz 13-14|
|Long pass %||53%||48%||49%||85%|
I forgave his occasional defensive lapses at first because he seemed just eager to win the ball and I figured Wenger would calm the beast inside him. Then he went down with an injury, well it wasn’t an injury, it was a congenital thing with him having an extra thick tendon in his legs or something.
When he came back from his injury in his third season, all the same problems were there as they were in the first and he still scored goals (6) but people forgave him not winning headers and making basic errors because he was “returning from injury” or at times being played out of position.
But in his fourth season, I think people were pretty clear that he was no longer a starting center back for Arsenal. It was the performance against Liverpool where Arsenal made two comedy errors to allow Liverpool to score two goals which earned Vermaelen the drop from Wenger. I wrote:
The first goal Arsenal conceded was simply blightful. Sagna lost his footing when Suarez’ lame pass was inches from the Arsenal defender. Then Glen Johnson crossed what was essentially right at both Mertesacker and Vermaelen. The big German was too slow to get to the ball but the little Belgian was there and all he needed to do was kick the ball out of play. Instead he took the biggest swing and a miss in the history of the sport, the momentum of his swing was so great that it flung him dramatically in the air and landed him square on his face. He couldn’t have executed that move any better on the set of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Arsenal then lost to Blackburn in the FA Cup, Bayern in the Champions League, and another double-clanger from Vermaelen in the 2-1 loss to Tottenham. The next game, Vermaelen was dropped. Arsenal’s captain, dropped.
It had been coming all season. People were calling for him to be dropped earlier in the year but as I wrote before January, you can’t drop the captain, because it’s the nuclear option. Once you drop the captain it will either force everyone else to shape up or it will cause the whole team to melt down.
In this case the team took the hint and from the 2-0 win over Bayern all the way to the end of the season, Arsenal halted the “negative spiral” and finished the season in 4th place. It was an end of season run anchored to a rock solid defensive partnership between Koz and Per.
|Per 11-12||Per 12-13||Per 13-14|
|Long pass %||64%||73%||82%|
Koscielny and Mertesacker are more than just a partnership. During the FA Cup trophy presentation, as each player was passed the cup so they could lift it in celebration, Koscielny insisted that he and Mertesacker lift the cup together.
In the end, Vermaelen’s odd lack of positional awareness never went away. That along with his two years of error-prone football culminating in a nightmare game against Tottenham left Wenger with no choice but to drop the captain. Once he was dropped, Koscielny grabbed his chance with both feet and made the position his own. Arsenal haven’t looked back since.
Frankly, I don’t understand why Man U want him and why they want to pay him so much. With Vidic gone, they need a new center half, but this is Arsenal’s backup CB and he has earned that backup role with his consistently poor performances. Not only that but he’s not the same kind of CB that Vidic is: he’s not a monster in the air (Vidic wins 70% of his AD), and he’s not a defender who sits back and clears danger (Vidic led Man U with almost 11 clearances a game last season). Is he being hired as a backup? For £100k a week? Does Louis van Gaal rate him as a starting center back at Man U? Has he not watched the guy play and seen that he lacks the basic calmness needed to be a top center back?
There are some rumors that Arsenal want Tom Cleverly or Chris Smalling in return for Vermaelen. No to Cleverly (Denilson?) and yes to Smalling. Smalling isn’t nearly as rubbish as United fans make out and Cleverly is as rubbish as everyone makes out. Smalling is also only 24 years old, he’s 6’4″, and he counts as homegrown.
As much as I want to be angry that Arsenal might sell another player to Man U, I’m having a real hard time getting worked up over this one. Vermaelen is a bit of a time bomb and if van Gaal thinks he’s going to shape him into a world class center half he’s got a lot of work to do. If Arsenal can trade Vermaelen for Smalling I would take it. Smalling is British, young, makes less money than Vermaelen and has potential that I don’t see in Verm. No matter what Arsenal do we have to have a replacement backup center half right away.
I understand some of the comparisons to van Persie: he went behind our backs and negotiated a deal with Man U, we stuck by him while he was injured, we stuck by him when he was crap (until he was utter crap), and we would be selling a player to a title rival. But I just think this deal is a lot less van Persie and a lot more Silvestre. Maybe van Gaal can turn him into a world class defender but where I’m at with his career at Arsenal I have to say that a straight up swap for Smalling would see Arsenal get the better end of the deal.