The newspapers may be littered with reports linking Thomas Vermaelen with a move away from Arsenal, but for now, any discussion must surely be moot: The Belgian cannot be allowed to leave until Per Mertesacker is available for duty.
Vermaelen’s time with Arsenal does admittedly appear to be drawing to a close. Last season, he played second fiddle to the first-choice pairing of Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny throughout the campaign. For a player trying to hold on to an international place, that’s not going to be satisfactory. He needs to move somewhere where will he will play more regularly.
The latest stories suggest he could be an option for Barcelona. According to Spanish paper Mundo Deportivo (h/t John Drayton of the Daily Mail), the Catalan club are contemplating recruiting him for next season. That comes after a report by Ben Burrows of The Mirror linking him with a switch to Manchester United. With Louis van Gaal seemingly set on playing three at the back, Vermaelen seems like an ideal fit for the left-sided centre-back role.
With just a year left on his contract, this is the last chance for Arsenal to recoup some cash on their club captain. His departure feels inevitable, however, it must be delayed until it suits the Gunners.
Speaking on Arsenal’s trip to New York to face the Red Bulls, Arsene Wenger confirmed to ESPN FC that Mertesacker’s and his fellow German internationals' World Cup exertions could see them miss the start of the season:
I have a decision to make, do I bring them early and play them straight away and lose them in October or November or do I give them the needed rest to recover and get the hunger back?
So I have chosen the second solution knowing that it is a bit risky because on top of that we have the qualifier for the Champions League group stage and they might not be ready for that.
The absence of Mertesacker would leave Vermaelen and Koscielny as the club’s only senior centre-backs. Arsenal were already light in that position before losing Bacary Sagna, whose versatility allowed him to offer cover there. Now, they are down to the bare bones.
Mertesacker and his German compatriots are not scheduled to return to training until 11 August. The chances of them being ready for the Premier League opener against Crystal Palace, just a matter of days later, are slim to none.
The importance of the Champions League qualifier cannot be underestimated, either. Should Arsenal fail at that hurdle, it will hurt both their bank balance and their pride. If they are unfortunate in the draw, Arsenal could face daunting ties against the likes of Lille or Zenit St. Petersburg. Arsenal need every defender at their disposal.
If Vermaelen were to be sold before the season kicks off, Arsenal could find themselves relying on the likes of Ignasi Miquel or Isaac Hayden, neither of whom have the requisite experience to offer reliable cover at the elite level.
Wenger is unlikely to force Vermaelen to stay. Typically, he lets those who are unhappy leave the club. He does not see the value in keeping an unsettled player. However, manager and player must come to an arrangement whereby Vermaelen stays at the club until it suits Arsenal for him to go. His move away can only be precipitated by Mertesacker’s renewed availability or the arrival of a high-calibre defensive signing.