So Arsène Wenger has done it again. Not content with making one big money, straight-to-first-team signing this year, he has gone and produced another.
The need for a new centre half at the Emirates has been well documented (and slightly exaggerated if you ask me) of late, with Kolo Touré’s alarming loss of form, William Gallas’ injury and temperament issues, and Mikaël Silvestre’s…well, everything. Yes Johann Djourou has come on a fair bit over the past year or so, and yes Phillipe Senderos is expected to return from his largely unsuccessful sabbatical in Milan to add competition for the centre back spot, but that is hardly great news for Arsenal fans is it?
So what of their latest capture then? Thomas Vermaelen has pedigree. He is a Belgian international, twenty-one caps to his name. He made his debut for Dutch giants Ajax in February 2004, aged just 18. Last season he was named captain at the ArenA, and leaves Holland having made 94 Eredivisie appearances and scored 8 goals.
And he has a fan in former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam, who said of the 23 year-old, “I liked the way he was defending as a youngster, I think he was only 19 when he had made his debut. But he was a quick learner and strong in tackles.”
Being quick at learning may well be of vital importance to a player slotting into the current Arsenal side. Wenger has long been queried over his tendency to prefer projects to ready-made first teamers, and in splashing out a fee thought to be around £8.45m initially (rising to more than £10m depending on appearances),there is a sense that Vermaelen will fall into the latter category. With Gallas set to turn 32 in August, Silvestre some way past his best, Touré searching for the form that made him such a valued player at the club during their “Invincibles” campaign in 2004, and Senderos & Djourou still to prove themselves, Vermaelen will be under pressure to hit the ground running.
Wenger has, predictably, been full of praise for his latest capture, saying:
“Thomas is a solid performer with good experience of Champions League and UEFA Cup football and is also a regular with the Belgium national team, he is strong technically with a positive winner’s attitude and I have no doubt his arrival will strengthen our team. Thomas is primarily a left-footed centre-back, but he is multi-functional and can also play at left-back.”
With Wenger believed to have initially favoured a move for the more imposing figure of Fulham’s Brede Hangeland, there are some question marks over the physical stature of his second-choice, with Vermaelen measuring in at less than 6ft his arrival would appear unlikely to add the height and power long sought after in this part of North London. Indeed, former Gunners skipper Tony Adams voiced as much when discussing the move.
“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. I have been looking at the Dutch league, but it’s been decimated. It’s a poor league at the moment, there’s one or two players but they’re leaving too early as well.”
Of course it is too early to say whether the Belgian will prove another Wenger gem or another Wenger gaffe, but certainly his range of passing, reading of the game, and eye for a goal is pretty impressive. He has been criticised at times in his homeland for possessing a perceived complacency and for a tendency to switch off at times, but Gunners fans will be hoping that he can develop under Wenger and add some organisational skills to a defence that too often seems composed of individuals, whilst Vermaelen himself is hopeful, and confident, that his new club can challenge for honours, saying:
“Everything is set up for Arsenal to be very successful for years to come and I joined this club because I know Arsenal will be challenging for trophies.”
Will Vermaelen be a success at Arsenal and shore up the defence? Who will Wenger sign next? Share your thoughts in the comments below.