It might be difficult for someone who just started following Arsenal to believe that Thomas Vermaelen is the club's captain. After all, we haven't seen much of him for a while.
A significant reason why Vermaelen hasn't been around much is injury. His preseason was wrecked before it got started in earnest by a lower back injury, which kept him out of the lineup until a few weeks ago.
Of course, that's not the only thing keeping the skipper off the pitch.
Since being benched against Bayern Munich, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have forged a rock-solid partnership at the heart of Arsenal's defense that has lasted during almost every subsequent game. During the end of last season and the beginning of this, Vermaelen has been the odd man out.
The Gunners would not be much worse off if he was included. Arsene Wenger likened his current selection dilemma with the choice he faced on a weekly basis during the late 1990s: Steve Bould, Tony Adams or Martin Keown?
Perhaps his options were somewhat better then, but each player's quality makes it impossible to justify benching them.
However, in Vermaelen's case, his form has been reason enough. Meanwhile, Koscielny and Mertesacker have consistently been outstanding.
The most obvious flaw in Vermaelen's game is his lack of discipline, which causes him to act on his attacking instincts much too often. Sometimes, he gets forward to great effect, capably and energetically supporting the midfielders and forwards with surging, penetrating runs.
But he often forgets that he is, first and foremost, a centre back. Such audacious forays leave the defense wide open for the splitting, and Premier League footballers are able to exploit the holes that the absence of a centre-back open.
No wonder why Arsene Wenger decided he could have no more of Vermaelen's tomfoolery when Arsenal played Tottenham last February. The Belgian stupidly stepped forward when Spurs advanced into Arsenal's third, and a clever pass picked out Gareth Bale, who had shrewdly moved into the gap.
He scored, the Gunners lost and their hopes of playing in the Champions League the next season were very nearly dashed.
Vermaelen probably would have been dropped earlier, too, if he had not been designated the captain of the team. The implicit authority of the piece of cloth he wore around his left arm shielded him from some of the reprieve that he deserved from fans. It also kept him from the embarrassment of sitting on the bench.
After all, it is odd to virtually never play with the captain of one's own club. One would assume that such a peculiar situation would create some locker room discord or unsettlement.
Yet, it has not seemed to, and Vermaelen is left to fight for his place like any other footballer.
It seems impossible that he could show enough on the training ground to oust either Koscielny or Mertesacker on the current form of the latter two.
But Vermaelen knows how quickly that can change. He very recently said (via Telegraph):
I have spoken to the manager but it will remain private between us. Things can happen in a split second and change my situation. That can happen tomorrow or next weekend.
He was also relatively coy about seeking a move away from the club in January, which is understandable given the fact that he is in a tight competition for places in Belgium's World Cup squad and would also like to spend his best years on the pitch.
In three months, there should be no reason why Vermaelen should feel compelled to leave Arsenal. Mertesacker and/or Koscielny will almost certainly get injured and/or suspended in that time. There are simply so many games to play that Wenger will have to rotate his squad at certain points.
Vermaelen will then be able to jump into the squad and show the quality that everyone who has observed him at Arsenal knows he possesses.
He is still an influential leader within the squad (he still owns the captain's armband, remember), and he was, for a long time, regarded as one of the most dynamic players in the entire team.
Arsenal will always have a place for a player like that.
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