Thomas Vermaelen Stands Tall amidst Arsenal's Defensive Comedy of Errors

Alex StampCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2009

LIEGE, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 16:  Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal celebrates his goal during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Standard Liege and Arsenal at the Sclessin Stadium on September 16, 2009 in Liege, Belgium.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Only a day earlier, Thomas Vermaelen had said that he was used to spending time in a circus, and five minutes into Arsenal's Champions League match at Standard Liege it was just as well.

Two goals, two sloppy defensive mistakes, and suddenly Arsenal were on the back foot, where they would stay until well into the second half. That they fought back spoke volumes for what Wenger has constantly called “their spirit,” but that they needed to fight back in the first place said enough about their defensive capabilities ahead of a long and potentially dangerous season.

The goals themselves were wholly avoidable, and indeed the only unavoidable point in them was the feeling that were this to be any of Arsenal's compatriots in the big four, then such a scenario would not be happening.

Defensively, Arsenal appeared well-short of the mark, with the honorable exception of Thomas Vermaelen, whose man-of-the-match display back in his homeland continued his exceptional start for his new side.

Faultless for either goal, Vermaelen defended with a fire and aggression which has been sadly lacking from an Arsenal defender since the departures of Adams or Keown. Positionally sound, quick enough to cover at the back, and, for a player whose one weakness was perceived to be his aerial ability, utterly dominant in the air.

He also tried to lead from the back, charging forward from the back at every opportunity, once haring down the left flank into the penalty area only to be noticeably ignored, the goal he got—if dubious in its creation, courtesy of Alex Song's handball—was utterly deserved on the night, and he once more appears to be another diamond that Wenger has plucked from the proverbial rough.

His performance though stood in sharp contrast to his more experienced colleagues. The goals conceded were sloppy and let in by some of the more experienced men in this Arsenal defensive unit.

Clichy, whose form must be a concern for Wenger, appeared uncomfortable for much of the evening, bar his brilliant last minute, last-ditch challenge, and his flank was the most rewarding channel for Liege to attack from.

Indeed it was his lax closing down that allowed Liege to win the corner from which they ultimately fashioned the first goal, though it was Eduardo, with his careless backheel, who was ultimately guilty.

While much of the furor surrounding Adebayor on Saturday deflected the attention away from an especially poor defensive display by a defender who, is now one of the more experienced players in this Arsenal team, and without doubt, as a senior figure, should be doing better.

Then there was Gallas. The divisive figure of the Emirates faithful was another who struggled to cope with Liege’s attacks. While Vermaelen shackled the lively Mbokani effectively, when it was Gallas' turn, he struggled. His hack on Jovanovic, which cost the penalty, was irresponsible, if slightly unlucky.

However, in this capable, but inexperienced, back four, Gallas is the one with the most experience and therefore must be leading from the front, rather than relying on others to set the tone. Failure to do so creates a problem for Wenger and Arsenal.

While their attack continues to prove effective, it is in defence where Arsenal have their problems—albeit long-standing ones—which Wenger himself has long failed to address.

While Vermaelen continues to prove himself at the heart of the defence, the rest of the team must get back up to speed, and fast, if it wants to challenge for the major trophies which both Wenger and Arsenal fans believe it can.

While Wenger will have seen plenty to encourage him last night, his defence was not one of them and they must improve before Arsenal's comedy of errors at the back are no longer a laughing matter.