‘The Verminator’, Thomas Vermaelen has become a crowd favorite at the Emirates, for his passion, determination and fighting qualities. Signed from Ajax for a fee of £10 million, in 2009, Vermaelen is now one of the mainstays of the Arsenal defence.
Gritty and brave, he had a fine first season at the Emirates, where he scored 8 goals, 7 of which came in the league, and was a fine tackler. Immediate comparisons with his Manchester United counterpart Nemanja Vidic were made for his tough tackling. He made it into the PFA Team of the Year 2009/2010. His second season though, was rather forgettable. An injury ruled him out for almost the entire campaign. Here’s a look at how the Belgian has fared this campaign.
Vermaelen played in the turbulent start to the season. He put up a dogged display in defence against Newcastle, and followed it up in the Champions League qualifier against Udinese. After some gutsy defending, against Liverpool, with a makeshift defence, that comprised Ignasi Miquel and Carl Jenkinson, the Gunners conceded two late offside goals, to be cruelly beaten 2-0. He also played a big part in the 2-1 win in Italy over Udinese, though conceding a penalty, which was ultimately saved by Szczesny.
He missed the next few games due to injury, and only returned to the first team, as captain, against Bolton, in the Carling Cup, which Arsenal won 2-1. He played the full game against West Brom and scored a goal off a van Persie pass. Vermaelen continued with a good display against a determined Norwich, a 2-1 win. He scored both goals in a 1-1 draw against Fulham, one of which was an unlucky own goal. His equalizer, was a thumping header.
He scored again in the next league fixture, away at Wigan. He played in the 3-1 dead rubber loss to Olympiakos, a game in which Andre Santos was injured. This meant Arsenal were short of full-backs and the Belgian was deployed at left-back, for the next few games.
It started with a narrow 1-0 win over Everton, when Vermaelen’s last ditch header prevented Cahill from equalizing for the Toffees. Despite being played out of position, Vermaelen put in some good displays. In a 1-0 loss to Manchester City, he defended admirably, and even tested Joe Hart with some fiery left-footers. A defensive mix up between him and Mertesacker resulted in an Aston Villa goal, and days later, Arsenal drew 1-1 at home to Wolves. Vermaelen, himself had 2 late attempt at goal, both denied by a brilliant Wayne Hennessey.
Vermaelen would limp out of the game against QPR, after just 54 minutes. He would go on to miss the losses to Fulham and Swansea. He returned to the left-back spot against Manchester United, where he was outjumped by Antonio Valencia, seconds before half time, resulting in United’s opener. He was partly responsible for the Red Devils’ second goal, late on.
A clean sheet was kept against Bolton, followed by 7-1 win over Blackburn and a 2-1 away win over Sunderland. Vermaelen was under par in the 4-0 thrashing by Milan. Vermaelen had moved back to his favored centre-back position, after Kieran Gibbs passed a late fitness test to be fit for the game. The second goal conceded should have been defended better when Robinho beat both central defenders. An unfortunate slip led to Milan scoring the 3rd goal.
Arsenal conceded two goals against Sp*rs, the first of which was in just the 4th minute. Arsenal’s defence was left exposed completely, as Saha’s shot deflected off Vermaelen’s foot, into the net. A much improved showing from the Gunners followed, as Arsenal won 5-2. He played through the entire 90 minutes against Liverpool, at Anfield, despite suffering from injuries, as well as a back problem he picked up during the game. He won several headers, as Arsenal shut out the Reds, to snatch victory late on.
He was literally a colossus in the 2nd leg against Milan, where he won almost every header he contested, as the Gunners coasted to a 3-0 win. After a poor first leg showing, the trio of Ibrahmovic, Robinho and El Shaarawy were comfortably shut out of the match.
A fine display against Newcastle was next, where Vermaelen scored a 95th minute winner. Running almost the length of the pitch, he poked in a Walcott cross. He would also go on to score the only goal against Everton, and then partner Koscielny effectively, as Arsenal won 1-0.
After a relatively easy win over Aston Villa, the Gunners came unstuck against QPR at Loftus Road. Vermaelen clearly struggled against the physicality of Bobby Zamora. He was beaten by Adel Taarabt, for Rangers’ opening goal. Another slip from the Belgian allowed Jamie Mackie to set up Samba Diakite for the winner.
He made up for it with sturdy displays against Manchester City and Wolves. The Gunners’ vulnerability to counter attacks was exposed by Wigan. With Vermaelen bombing forward, and only Johan Djourou at the back, it was easy for the Lactics to go 2-0 up inside 8 minutes. Vermaelen responded with a typically determined header 13 minutes later, but that would be the last goal of the game.
A nervy display against Chelsea would follow, but luckily he had Koscielny this time to cover up. This was again demonstrated at Stoke and Norwich, where his attacking instincts proved costly for the team. Shane Long would expose more frailties again in the last game of the season, when he was afforded too much space, to score the Baggies’ equalizer, despite being offside.
Here are some key features on Thomas Vermaelen‘s season.
Far too often, Vermaelen gets caught out of position. His attacking instincts have affected the team a bit at the back, especially on counter attacks. Though he has played at left-back for a fair amount of games this season, his defensive duties should come ahead of attack play. He has been caught desperately out of position, numerous times this season, but luckily for him, he usually has Laurent Koscielny to cover up.
There is no doubt that Vermaelen is a good defender. He is capable of the mean tackle, as well as the sublime. His heading ability is good, as he has displayed them against the likes of Carroll, Crouch, Fellaini and Balotelli. More composure while defending is needed at this level, as he can get beaten too easily at times. Taraabt’s and Robinho’s goals are such examples. He is also susceptible to sudden changes in pace and movement. Luis Suarez managed to lose his attentions a couple of times. Ibrahimovic did with relative ease.
Of a short frame, Vermaelen does tend to struggle against physical attackers, but usually comes out on top. Valencia out muscled him, and so did Zamora and Mackie. Grant Holt too provided a physical challenge, which Vermaelen struggled at times to pass. Another aspect that requires fine tuning.
SUMMARY AND RATING
Vermaelen will have his work cut out, if he wants to hold on to his place at the back, alongside Laurent Koscielny. Defensive mistakes have cost the Gunners many points this season. It will be a hard choice for Arsene Wenger to make. Does he choose the experienced, but slow Mertesacker, or the determined, hard-tackling Vermaelen. Well, that’s his problem. He gets a rating of 7.5.