Tag Archives: Thomas Vermaelen

Vermaelen misses everything

The decline and fall of Thomas Vermaelen

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)
Aerial % 58% 73% 56% 55% 62%
Interceptions 2 3.6 2.3 1.6 1.4
Clearances 7.1 5.8 4.1 4.5 5.6
Blocks 0.5 0.4 0.5 0.7 0.1
Pass% 83% 88% 89% 86% 91%
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
Aerial % 53% 61% 64% 53%
Interceptions 2.8 2.8 1.6 2.8
Clearances 6.9 5.1 4.9 7.3
Blocks 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.7
Pass% 85% 85% 83% 94%
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
Aerial % 63% 69% 68%
Interceptions 1.7 1.5 1.7
Clearances 4.4 4.8 7.1
Blocks 0.6 0.6 0.5
Pass% 89% 92% 93%
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.


Robin van Persie gives Arsenal the double guns

Vermaelen’s ankle and van Persie’s justice

I don’t have time for my regular 1000 word, brilliant, incisive post this morning as I have been stretched so thin with commitments that I just don’t have time. Still there are two stories regarding Arsenal that have piqued my interest.

The first is about Thomas Vermaelen and his banjaxed ankle. According to the Daily Mail, Thomas Vermaelen is getting “anti-inflammatory” injections on his ankle so that he can be fit for the upcoming month of football. What made this story interesting is that I was under the impression that Wenger and Arsenal don’t believe in injections.

I can’t find the specific quote (one of you will remember for me) but there was a player who claimed that Arsenal “forced” him to take injections. Wenger was asked at his next press conference and I remember him categorically denying that he ever forced anyone to take injections. So, something about the story strikes me as odd. Like, almost as if a reporter were taking some banal detail of Arsenal’s captain’s treatment plan and blowing it up into a full blown “exclusive” so that he could get people excited over nothing. The only way my imagined story works is if Arsenal fans are already nervous over an injury riddled defense and the fact that the substitutes Arsenal could field are either all on loan or also injured.

Speaking of which, Andre Santos is on the verge of completing his switch to Gremio, Johan Djourou is on loan to Germany, Gibbs is hurt, Jenkinson is suspended, Vermaelen is hurt, and Koscielny came up limp during warm up on Saturday. See how that Daily Mail story, warning us that Vermaelen might be out for the season, is just a wind up?

Seriously, though, this weekend — if Koscielny or Vermaelen are not back healthy — you have to play Sagna in the CB position and Nico Yennaris at right back. Problem solved.

The other story that captured my imagination, the way that a petri dish captures bacteria, is the rags to riches story of Manchester United winning the title. It’s such a heartwarming tale of a little club who overcomes an oppressive uncle bleeding the family’s fortunes dry by tapping up the world’s best striker and having him give his former club the “double guns” on the Fourth of July.

Robin van Persie gives Arsenal the double gunsSuch a heartwarming tale. What makes it even better is how Manchester United overcame adversity to win the title for the first time in a year — their 13th title in the last 21 years. Truly, the underdogs have triumphed again and justice has been done.

But this all raises two questions for me. First, and this is addressed to my English readers mostly, but don’t you get sick to fuck of seeing the same team win the title every year? No other league has such an absolute dominance of one team the way that United have over the Premier League. What’s the point of watching if one team is going to win 62% of the titles?

Second, is Robin van Persie “justified” in leaving Arsenal last summer if United win the title? Please answer this question from a moral standpoint. Because if you’re going to say something is justified (ie. that it means the universe has administered “justice” to Robin van Persie) you need to back it up morally. Personally, I think what he did in July was amoral from a justice standpoint. We cared for him, nurtured him through sickness and health, and he ran off with the hot waitress from down the street as soon as he could.

The louse.

So, I don’t feel he was justified. I feel he perpetrated an evil (a privation) upon Arsenal. Winning is irrelevant.



Arsenal 4-0 Wigan; the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Thomas Vermaelen, super genius, scores a header between two Wigan players.


Lovely morning; the rain was coming down and I spent the early part of the day with my daughter watching Burnley beat Sunderland 3-1 on the back of a really pitiful performance by Lorik Cana. Then I got to Doyle’s where two other Arsenal supporters (Steve and Colin) had driven all the way up from Olympia to catch the match, had a breakfast sandwich, too much coffee and watched an easy Arsenal win. I dare say that whatever residual effects I’m feeling from this obnoxious infection were blown away by this morning’s events.

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Arsenal drew a line under recent controversies by recording a straightforward Premier League victory against Wigan, helped by Thomas Vermaelen’s double.

Telegraph: Vermaelen now stands equal with Eduardo as Arsenal’s top goalscorer this season following a brace today in a routine 4-0 defeat of Wigan Athletic.

Man of the Match

The Telegraph has inexplicably given MotM to Robin van Persie, who’s profligacy in front of goal today more than once nudged me to joke “Vermaelen wouldn’t have missed that.” No matter that Robin worked very hard and was dogged all afternoon by Wigan’s no nonsense defending, it was Thomas Vermaelen who easily wins Man of the Match for me.

First, rising among two Wigan defenders (who are no slouches on set plays it should be noted) for a superbly taken header and to break what was looking by all accounts like another “typical Arsenal performance.” Which is to say 18 shots on goal and no goals.

Then, right after the break, when Wigan looked like they might want to put pressure on the match and steal a goal (something we have seen so many teams do) Thomas simply carried the ball the length of the pitch, dropped it off to Eboue for the one-two, and curled in a left-footed goal that Robin van Persie could take lessons from.

Arsenal supporters have grown accustomed to Wenger’s system of multiple chances and few goals. It’s pretty much a chronic condition at this point that at any given time our club will utterly shred the opponent’s defense only to put in a toothless cross or flubbed shot. I’m not telling you anything with that. But, in Thomas Vermaelen I think Arsenal might have a player who is straight forward, no nonsense and just gets the ball in the net. The type of player that we’ve been missing for quite some time.

Not only is he scoring goals, but he seems to have boundless energy. With the recent performances of Clichy and Cesc seeming a bit out of sorts and perhaps even jaded, Vermaelen is simply brimming with energy. It’s early in the season but if he can keep this pace of play up, along with straightforward defending and goal scoring, well, then he will certainly be the transfer window buy of the year. For today, he’s just Man of the Match.

The Good

After conceding in every match this season and allowing six in the last two, all coming off lapses in concentration and/or will, Arsene Wenger’s team talk must have been all about defending as a squad because today was a prime example of what the 4-3-3 can do to an opponent when everyone works hard and defends together. There was only a brief moment where it looked like the boys had lost focus in the second half when we were up 3-0 and Wigan nearly scored. And there was one over the top play in which Rodellega was given acres of space that had me wondering how with just one man to mark, three Arsenal defenders could lose him simultaneously. But the point is that each time Arsenal recovered and snapped back into the match in order to clean up and keep the clean sheet. So, as a team, Arsenal put in a really tight defensive performance and deserved the clean sheet, Kudos to the whole squad.

As for individual performances, I’d like to single out Alex Song who had another massive game in the holding role and who, even when he put a foot wrong, jumped up and corrected his mistake with hard work or a well timed tackle. Similarly, Eduardo looked very good down the left side, Rosicky looked dangerous both in attack and in defense where he literally put in a shirt shredding tackle, and Clichy seems to have recovered most of the form which made him a fan favorite over the last few years. Good for them and I hope they enjoy their week off, get rested, and are ready to put in the same kind of performance against Fulham on the 26th.

The Bad

I know that everyone will want me to mention the goalkeeping of Vito Mannone here, but I’m not going to say a bad word about the man who managed to keep Arsenal’s first clean sheet of the season.

No, instead I’d like to mention the Setanta USA half-time pundit partnership of Pat Dolan and Paul Dempsey. I’d rather Setanta have dead air, or even worse Tommy Smyth, than these two ass clowns spouting Arsenal myths and prattling on about a club that they clearly know nothing about. Setanta can’t be paying these guys much money at all and it clearly shows in their commentary. They basically just regurgitated all of the negative headlines put about by the press over the last week and somehow that passes as “commentary.”

Please, Setanta, end the farce.

The Ugly

Throughout the match I kept seeing this huge empty section of seats and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve sat near there, is that the away section?’ Sure enough, I saw the large metal fence which indicates an away section and on one side red shirts filled nearly every seat and on the other… almost nothing. Damn, I know it’s a bit of a ride down from the Greater Manchester area to London and I know it’s a recession, but you have to wonder where the away supporters were. The match announcers mentioned that they can barely get 12,000 in their 25,000 seat arena for home matches and so I wonder, have they all gone off to worship at the coffers of Man City?

Either way, it seems to me that Arsenal should make arrangements with the club that, say, the week before if they don’t sell out the away end that they make it smaller and fill some of those seats with Arsenal fans. Put the tickets on special, put kids in there, do something, it looks like an open wound to have that many empty seats.


There’s still five games to go before we reach Wenger’s magical 10th game and can really judge how the season is going to play out. But in five matches Arsenal have won 3 and lost 2 and are tied with Chelsea on a sparkling +9 goal differential. Those two losses were bitter away losses that only happened when individuals lost concentration and/or the whole team surrendered. But I do think that Wenger was right about the team taking positives away from both of those away losses and from the comeback win against Liege on Wednesday. This team has the ability to really push Chelsea for the title, I really believe that and our goal differential shows it. But since we aren’t stacked from top to bottom with multi-million pound superstars like a club like Chelsea, we need, more than any other club, to work together in order to win. Victoria Concordia Crescit is the motto of the club and I think today we showed that when we live up to that motto we can really put in some sparkling performances.

Let’s hope they carry that forward to Tuesday’s Carling Cup match against West Brom and for the rest of the season. Now’s not the time to take their foot off the gas, but to push forward and really see what they and Wenger’s system can accomplish.

Until tomorrow, UP THE ARSE!