Another Wenger Gem

By on September 6, 2009

Vermaelen and van Persie

Ted Harwood is a new guest contributor to Arsenal Station. He lives in Chicago, IL, and has been an Arsenal supporter for the better part of a decade.  He writes about movies, music, and other cultural artifacts on his blog, Running Downhill.

Thomas Vermaelen, age 23, was born in Kapellen, Belgium, a town roughly ten miles north of Antwerp.  His career began at the Belgian club Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen, but the shy youth’s talent meant that he would not remain for long, especially after GBA began a partnership with Ajax in 1999.  Vermaelen moved clubs shortly after the link was established and overcame his shyness to make his Ajax debut at age 18, playing at left-back, and immediately his talent was there for all to see.  After a successful loan spell at RKC Waalwijk, Ajax brought him back and slotted him in next to the iconic Jaap Stam.  Stam predicted great things for the young defender, now playing at center-half as well as left-back.  Possessing great jumping skills, speed, and tenacity (on display as he bulldogged Robin van Persie during the 2007 Amsterdam Tournament), Vermaelen began to attract the attentions of numerous clubs around Europe, including Aston Villa and Arsenal, although Arsène Wenger, typically, kept his interest well-hidden.

The shortcomings of last year’s Arsenal compared with the other top three teams are apparent to everyone who takes a look at the 2008-09 table.  The Gunners scored as many goals as champions Manchester United, second only to the prolific Liverpool, but conceded thirteen more than both Man U and Chelsea.  Despite Wenger’s insistence that no one position was responsible for this problem, that the team defends as a team, most pundits and many Gooners insisted that the solution laid in a defensive destroyer, and that money should be no obstacle.  Many names were tossed out, some old (Lescott, Mertesacker), some new (Hangeland), but everyone seemed to concur that the ideal newcomer would have to be a beast, showing little regard for human life as he cleared the airspace around the Arsenal goal.  The ideal partner for the back-in-form William Gallas would be six-foot-five, have a vertical leap of something like three feet or more, and have a beard full of spittle and menace, everyone said.

Thomas Vermaelen at EvertonThus the arrival of Vermaelen in June for roughly £10m came as a bit of a surprise, and a bit of a letdown for those wanting a giant.  Tony Adams, who had scouted the player for Wenger, told Setanta after the signing that thought “Thomas is a very good player, but I don’t think he’s ready for the Arsenal. I don’t think the punters at Arsenal would like another small one.”  It is perhaps understandable that Adams would expect Wenger to bring someone in more in his legendarily solid mold to partner the mobile Gallas, especially given Arsenal’s perceived troubles defending set-pieces and crosses.  However, those closer to Ajax told a different story.  Ronald de Boer, the former Ajax and Rangers star, said ahead of the first Celtic match, “He didn’t play all that well for Ajax last season but he quite often had to play at left-back, which isn’t his best position, because he is left-footed. But, for me, he has all the skills to go on and be a great defender. He is very strong defensively, but can also play football too which is always useful.”  He compared Vermaelen to his brother Frank and added that Vermaelen is “a bit meaner than my brother, which is not a bad thing at all.”  No, indeed.  Furthermore, he is only 23, and as defenders typically peak in their late 20s, Arsenal have a potential diamond in their hands.

Vermaelen’s performances so far this year support that feeling.  His performance against Celtic at Celtic Park prompted Manuel Almunia to declare that Vermaelen’s confidence on the ball had calmed the Arsenal defense.  Against Everton, his skills were on display for all to see.  He frequently outleapt the much taller Jô and Marouane Fellaini, did well against the skill of Tim Cahill, and he has already displayed a nose for goal on set-pieces, scoring a header for Arsenal’s second goal of the match, although admittedly Everton’s defending was horrifying.  He plays like a more tenacious and physical Kolo Touré, laying to rest any fears Gooners may have about selling the Ivorian to Manchester City.  His positional sense was at times a little shaky (he was maybe in the wrong place during the build-up to Saha’s late consolation), but one suspects that that will come with time as he adjusts to the pace and running of the Premier League.

His performance was similarly strong against Portsmouth in the second match of the season, as he again showed his leaping ability, his tenacityThomas Vermaelen in stepping to attackers and getting stuck in, and his offensive sense, as he provided the final ball on Gallas’ hilarious face-ball set piece score.  The misfortune at Old Trafford had little to do with the partnership with Gallas, as the pair bracketed Wayne Rooney out of the game, a chance in the first half and Almunia’s mistake in the second the only real looks in the Englishman had all game.  He has slotted right in with Arsenal’s high defensive line, showing the awareness and quickness necessary to play the offside trip to perfection.  He has looked especially strong on long balls over the top, rarely failing to head them away to a teammate or thirty yards back from whence they came; this particular strength should prove invaluable against many of the more direct English sides.

Although five games form a small body of evidence, the early returns on the Gallas-Vermaelen pairing are positive.  Four goals against in three Premier League games do not paint an accurate picture of the duo’s efficacy, only one coming as the fault of either.  Vermaelen’s arrival, which cost the team nothing after Touré’s departure, so far looks to be a clever move on Wenger’s part, and as he becomes more comfortable with Gallas and Almunia, he could prove to be the signing of the season.  Plugging the leaks that saw Arsenal surrender points against the likes of Aston Villa and Manchester City last year will go a long way towards bringing some silver back to the Gunners’ case, and Vermaelen, along with an improved midfield barrier of two of Denilson-Song-Diaby, looks to be a big part of a solution to Arsenal’s drought. [digg=http://digg.com/soccer/Another_Wenger_Gem]


  1. adam

    September 7, 2009 at 10:01 am

    the verminator is pure class.small but can out jump tall players.solid at the back.good ball control.good left foot

    • ArsenalStation

      September 7, 2009 at 11:03 am

      He sure has been so far, as Ted points out. Like Ted says, I also questioned the signing of Vermaelen when we did seem to need a bigger back to deal with aerial threats. Also, his track record with signing CBs, besides for Campbell, has been less than stellar. But Vermaelen has quickly converted me.

      The added bonus is not only that he’s playing well and that he seems to have forged a good partnership with Gallas but that he inspires in Gallas a confidence he has not had in any other partner during his time at Arsenal and this has made him a better player.

  2. BendyTheViking

    September 7, 2009 at 11:13 am

    The silver lining also is we still have Big Phil. Say what you will about the big Swiss, but he is miles better then Silvestre. Phil and JD in reserve and Vermaelen replacing an out of form Kolo leaves us much better at the back then last season.

    • ArsenalStation

      September 7, 2009 at 1:25 pm

      I always thought it best to keep Senderos because with Gallas-Vermaelen and Senderos-Djourou we look covered at CB. Of course, that wasn’t counting on a 6 month injury to Djourou and didn’t take into account reports of Senderos being “furious” that he wasn’t sold before the window. I expect him to try to force our hand again in January and Djourou still won’t be anywhere near returning. Senderos has always been prone to mental errors and that’s when he wanted to be here, how will he play if he doesn’t want to be at Arsenal.

  3. Marko

    September 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I firmly believe the reason we didn’t sign another defender, as well as not being able to get rid of Senderos, was because Gallas and Vermaelen have looked so good together and signing another defender to just end up sitting on the bench would of been unfair.

    • ArsenalStation

      September 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

      I think that what happened was that Everton went for Heitinga instead of Senderos in the end. If Senderos had gone to Everton, I believe the Boss was poised to buy. Vermaelen was always meant to be Toure’s replacement even though he arrived before Kolo officially left. We may still need to buy a CB in January if Senderos really does want out as bad as reports suggest. He is probably not going to take kindly to going back to the Carling Cup.

  4. Bobby Dazzler

    September 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Granted, Vermaelen and Gallas work well together, however… sylvestre is shit… Senderos is a broken man who does not want to play for us…. and Djourou is literally a broken man. Song could fill in but is better suited to anchoring the midfield. We’ll need to spend in January. I’m pretty pissed off we only bought in one quality signing over the summer. We’ll struggle to really challenge with any more injuries to key players and I’m sorry to say I reckon there will be. We seem to have awful luck in thatr department.

  5. Jesus_Saves

    September 7, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    The good thing is that we have attacking options to come. We just need 3 more players. A defender that is young, good and willing to sit on the bench. TV And WG partnership is great. Gallas is a new man becasue Verm is impressing and gallas wants to show what he can do that as well. We need a defender and a hard midfiler like an essien type that can play Defensive mid but also on a wing(MAtuidi). and we need a cheap or free attacker- Chamak.

  6. gonner4life1986

    September 7, 2009 at 9:50 pm



  7. moses

    September 8, 2009 at 4:19 am

    TV and WG are a great pair,but i want AW not 2 4get d role Phil Sandrous effort dat lead us to d champ final.

  8. A

    September 8, 2009 at 6:24 am

    The Toure-Lescott partenership is not that tall either. I also think they are a simular tye of player,

    as Lescott played his best with Jagielka and Toure was at his best with Campball, two defensive leaders.

    Lets see what Vermalean does against Adebuyor on saturday.

    • Ted Harwood

      September 8, 2009 at 3:20 pm

      I agree, A, that the first true test of Vermaelen’s physical game comes this weekend. If he can keep the Adebayors and the Drogbas (and, heaven help us, the Crouches) of the world in check, then we’ll be in great shape. Big Phil’s infamous and nigh-mythcial struggles against Drogba proved that size isn’t necessarily the ticket; Vermaelen has a nasty streak bubbling under the surface that may more than compensate for his 5’11” frame. We shall see.

      • Ted Harwood

        September 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm

        Although, one should note his performance against Jo and Fellaini as a prelude, perhaps. Neither of them are small fish. Training against Bendtner hopefully will help some as well.

      • ArsenalStation

        September 8, 2009 at 7:08 pm

        I believe that Senderos’s problems were down to speed and decision-making. Unfortunately, the two were often intertwined when, playing a high line, his lack of speed made him look worse than he actually was. Though in his last real spell in the first team, in early 2008, he was really solid and it was on those performances that Milan wanted him. Like I said, I can’t think of a better #3 CB in the league off the top of my head, though I may be wrong. Just too tired to think…

    • ArsenalStation

      September 8, 2009 at 7:05 pm

      I agree. Adebayor, especially on his current form, will prove a big test to Vermaelen and the new partnership. I already see leadership qualities in Vermaelen… he was captain at Ajax, after all.

      As for City, let’s see how much love Adebayor gets from the fans when he goes on his inevitable goalless run of 8 games. Or let’s see if Hughes will even keep playing him considering all their strikers. I also think that Toure-Lescott will be exposed consistently like Toure-Gallas were by tall forwards with even a bit of aerial skill.


    September 8, 2009 at 6:24 am

    gonner4life1986-i hope you have tv on your shirt as …..THE VERMINATOR……….AWESOME!!!

  10. Truly AFC

    September 8, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Is it a question of we wanting Senderos to stay or the other way round? I think AW has got to his wits end with him with all the opportunities he had. Milan didn’t want him. AW said no club has come for him.

    Everton had a look at him but preferred Heitinga so he’s not good enough to play for us. I don’t think he’ll get a new contract; he’ll end up playing in a middle/lower-table club probably outside England.

    I’ve watched both Djourou and Senderos and believe that neither of them have a future with us. They are not the CB beasts we crave for. Djourou is better but he lacks that physicality and meanness required to be successful in that position.

    In two years time we have Kyle Bartley and Luke Ayling replacing both Gallas and Djourou. The pair have all that it takes, height, physicality, meanness and ball-playing needed to be CB’s.

    • ArsenalStation

      September 8, 2009 at 3:06 pm

      I disagree with you a bit TrulyAFC. I think the Everton deal was done and just waiting for Lescott to go but that they found they could get Heitinga, who I think is a better defender, for a much better price than Senderos. I don’t think he will sign a new contract and that we will probably be forced to deal him in January. That said, I thought that in 2007-08, his last season with us, he was crucial when Toure came back a shell of his former self from the ACN and he was fantastic during one of Arsenal’s best defensive runs in recent years. For my money, he has been one of the best #3 CBs in the league. Not many teams have a 3rd CB better than Senderos. Of course he doesn’t want to remain a 3rd CB forever especially considering he has captained the side on numerous occasions.

      I was dismayed that he didn’t want to stay and fight for his place but also a bit bewildered that he thought he would get a bigger role at Milan. Since his leaving for Milan, and after some quotes he made upon his arrival, I have lost whatever little taste I had for him. However, our current situation means he is needed at the moment.

      Also, Bartley and Ayling will be nowhere near first-team starters in two years and Nordtveit is a few years away as well. I think that it is not beyond reason to think that Gallas will sign another deal, possibly a 2-year deal, and that Djourou-Vermaelen will be the partnership after he leaves. Vermaelen is 23 years old and I am sure Arsene sees him as a top-choice Arsenal CB for years to come.

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  12. Kavalera

    April 5, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    The penalty against Manure united was not Almunia’s fault. Balooney cheated yet another time (diving before Almunia touches him) and the ref was please to give a penalty. I am tired of the “englishman” cheating. Shrek is a pathetic liar.

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