By Walter Broeckx
Moving away from the man who was our captain last year to the man who was our vice captain last year – and the man who could be our captain next season: Thomas Vermaelen.
Let us start right away with the remarks he got when we bought him – the same remarks as were directed at Koscielny, and not many of those were good. But like with Koscielny he managed to overturn the sceptics’ thoughts about him.
Vermaelen has been at Arsenal for 3 seasons now but only played in 2 seasons. The one in between was almost completely lost after getting injured when playing for Belgium. Being put on the field while playing for Belgium despite the injury and then finding himself out for the whole season after suffering a world record of setbacks before they finally discovered what was wrong was one of the most depressing aspects of that year. I do feel that a lot of doctors didn’t cover themselves with glory in those days.
In the two seasons he has played so far he has managed to start in 33 and 28 of those games. He got a little injury in the last season but this time the doctors knew what was wrong and he was back very quickly.
His end of season form wasn’t the best however. But just as with Szczesny later it was made public that they both played with an injury, could hardly train and were made fit to play each game.
In fact the story of Vermaelen being injured was only discovered in Belgium when he came to Brussels for a few friendly internationals and he was unable to play in the first because of his injury.
So he was brave enough to play even with an injury for Arsenal. Something that shows that he is willing to give it all for our club. And I know I am not from the gutter press, but his dip in form at the end of the season might have something to do with some personal problems in his personal live at the time. I just mention it because, well we all know such things can have an influence on a player his performances. Mostly a negative influence.
Leaving the defensive side for later I must start with his offensive power. In the two seasons he could really play he scored in total 14 goals. And we are talking about a central defender. I think most midfielders would be happy with such a return.
So it is obvious Vermaelen is a defender that can score. He has scored with headers from corners. He has scored with a few shots from distance that impressed. And maybe his best goal was the ugliest one: the bundle it over the line against Newcastle. After having run the whole length of the pitch in the 94th minute starting from his own penalty area and then pushing the ball over the line from 6 yards out.
So most people don’t mind his forward runs too much and hope that he can score a few. But this is also is Achilles heel a bit. Or better said Arsenal their Achilles heel. The rest of the team has to keep their eyes open and one player has to sacrifice himself and drop back a bit. We can say that on occasion and in some games with some important players missing in midfield (ah just say it was Arteta missing) we got caught.
Yes we could blame Vermaelen for this and when we are 1-0 in the 90th minute I would urge him to stay back. I’m sure these are things that will have been said by now and I hope that he will time his runs a bit and that also the rest of the team has the brains to drop back a bit when he tries to support our attack.
Some have said that Vermaelen could be a great defensive midfielder because he has good technical skills and can pass the ball around and has a good long ball in his feet. I don’t know if he has the needed tactical skill to play that role to be honest. Because if he then runs forward … we could have nobody to cover the back line any more. I think this is the reason why Wenger doesn’t go for the suggestion that most of us have made when in the pub or in the train or in the car on our way to the game, or back home.
Not being the tallest can sometimes by a problem when playing a very very big centre forward but with good timing and technique Vermaelen is able to work away the handicap of not being the biggest person on the field. And besides many great centre backs are just as big as Vermaelen. Being clever in defence can help a lot.
For next season? Well with obviously a new captain to be chosen for next season (I really cannot imagine RVP being captain even if Arsenal would hold him for the final year of his contract) the chance of Vermaelen to become captain will increase.
He was captain of Ajax at a very young age. He was captain of the Belgium national team at a very young age and only lost the captaincy because he was out of the team for a year with his injury. In an interview he said this summer that he still was very unhappy about losing the captaincy after having played with an injury for Belgium and then on his return to find out that Kompany had been given the armband and was going to keep it. So he enjoys and wants the responsibility of being a captain.
And despite being a very calm and quiet person outside the football field when you meet him in person (did I ever mention I have met him in person? Oh well I think I did) he is a person that will not let other people run him over. It is something that he has learned from leaving home at a very young age and going to Amsterdam and live amongst the Dutch who are very loud and like to talk until they drive you mad. [May I point out here that the author of this article comes from the Flemish speaking part of Belgium? - Tony] He had to adapt and talk louder to become accepted. So getting the captaincy at Ajax was a sign of his character.
Will he be promoted to being captain? Will he be asked to be the captain? And will he accept it? I think this depends how Wenger is seeing the central defence for next season. Does Wenger want to use his central defenders as much as possible and rotate them as much it is rather unlikely that one of them (Vermaelen in this case) will play all the games. Usually a captain is certain of his starting place and well with the rotation it could mean that we would have different captains. So maybe Wenger will go for another player. One that he expects to play almost every game.
But if Wenger asks Vermaelen to be the next captain I think he would be very honoured to take on that task. The only hope is that, well, we know what happened to our last captains…..
But whatever happens to him I just want to make sure that I don’t think Vermaelen will ever do what Van Persie has done. Vermaelen will say what he thinks but he will say it in private. He will not go out with such statements in public. And if he would do this I will certainly speak with his parents. I have met them (his mother is a really very friendly woman) and talked with them.
But I really do think that Vermaelen is still a very down to earth young man. I know where they live in that little town near Antwerp and their home is nothing special at all. Just the home where boys grow up, dream of becoming a professional football player and then for very few of the dreams comes true. And they end up at Arsenal… and maybe they become club captain of such a big club.
I don’t know how his little town will honour him if he becomes captain of Arsenal… They gave him the “Gulden Garve” already last year (when I met him, you know)… they will have to invent a new special prize and ceremony I think. And I, well I could then say that I have met the captain of Arsenal in person and I have his signed shirt lying in my bedroom.
Blimey, I’m a blessed person….
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