Skipper isn't done yet
Thomas Vermaelen was finally dropped from the Arsenal team in Munich last week. It's been coming for a long time and I suspect it was only the armband that was keeping him in for a while. Vermaelen has been a favourite with the supporters since his goalscoring debut in a handsome win at Everton a few years back. His goalscoring feats certainly promoted a strong reputation with the fans and made him an eye-catching player. Put together with some tough tackling and a willingness to attack the ball in the air he quickly became known as The Verminator. Of course the attacking of the high ball was soon coached out of him at Arsenal and disappeared almost entirely for a while. However, when Robin Van Persie left there was only really one candidate to be made Captain of Arsenal Football Club despite more and more regular mistakes in his defensive play. The partnership of Vermaelen and Koscielny was pretty awful throughout last season, and has got no better on the occasions they've been put together this term. Koscielny excelled last season, while Vermaelen regressed. He still got the odd goal to keep the wolves from the door of criticism - his last minute winner against Newcastle, crucial though it was, merely served to mask the deficiencies in his game. Since he was left out last week the defence has put in two very creditable performances, leading to speculation that Vermaelen in finished at Arsenal. Of course it's too early to talk in those terms, but there is definitely work to do for Vermaelen to reclaim his place. As Club Captain it is no doubt embarrassing for him and a dent to his pride. But there is another way in which the skipper could become an integral part of this Arsenal team.
Arsene Wenger has long been criticised for playing people out of position. From Stephen Hughes and Abou Diaby wide on the left, Sylvain Wiltord and Gilberto Silva and Sylvain Wiltord and Nicklas Bendtner wide on the right, and Aaron Ramsey anywhere other than his true position, Wenger always seems to have done it. It's not been good for any of those players, or for the team. Square pegs do not tend to fit in to round holes. However, in the case of Vermaelen I think we have a problem solver that would suit not only the player, but be of huge benefit to the team.
We've been crying out for a defensive midfield enforcer ever since Gilberto was ridiculously sold. Alex Song did a far better job than people give him credit for (I think we've missed him badly this season) but he was no Gilberto. Song had a habit of giving away silly free-kicks that would put us under unnecessary pressure. In my time watching Arsenal our trophy winning teams have always had a hard working midfield player who could tackle. In 1987 there was Steve Williams, then Kevin Richardson and Michael Thomas in 1989. David Hillier came in to do it in 1991, then Steve Morrow was joined by Ian Selley, Ray Parlour and John Jensen in 1993 and 1994. Petit and Vieira fitted the bill in 1998 and then Gilberto arrived in 2002 to complete that jigsaw.
The responsibility this season has gone to Mikel Arteta and it hasn't been wholly successful. Arteta is more than willing to stick his foot in (he's actually quite a dirty player) but he lacks the physicality to do the job properly. He is also a naturally attacking player so it is not fair to put him in that area of the pitch. It's a mark of Arteta's professionalism that he gets on with it without complaining, but it's not enough for success at Arsenal. Plenty of new blood has been consistently linked with us, such as Yann M'Vila and Chieck Tiote. There has also been talk of Victor Wanyama at Celtic and he is the one I would choose given the opportunity. I don't doubt that Wanyama would be released from Scotland for £10-15 million. But does Vermaelen actually have the ability to fit his square peg in to the midfield shaped hole and save us a big transfer fee?
One of Vermaelen's big problems at centre-back is a seemingly uncontrollable desire to chase the ball in to midfield. This often leaves us out of shape at the back, with no Gilberto figure able to read the signs and just drop in to the gap. If Vermaelen was actually deployed in midfield it would eradicate that problem. On the occasion that Koscielny chose to move forward I would hope that Vermaelen's centre-half instincts would see him drop in to the back four and cover appropriately. His tackling in the midfield would be very welcome, as would his aerial ability. Vermaelen is no racing snake, but he's no slouch either so covering the ground wouldn't be a concern. Aside from Wilshere he is still the only genuine Captain in the squad and he would be able to keep the armband if he was alongside Jack in the midfield. With Wilshere crocked it would allow Arteta to move up the field slightly and give some physical protection to Santi Cazorla while also unshackling his own creative abilities. Arteta would become a mini-enforcer higher up the pitch and his eye for goal from around the edge of the penalty area would be a welcome bonus. When Wilshere becomes fit again he is easily interchangeable with Cazorla or Arteta.
It strikes me that moving Thomas Vermaelen forward in to midfield could be a really good thing for this side in the games that remain. Of course we're assuming there will be no injuries among our centre-halves for the rest of the season, but I think it has to be worth a shot. Thomas Vermaelen is too important to this Arsenal team to be shunted to the sidelines completely. I like Vermaelen a lot and I want to see him succeed and stay at Arsenal. But I don't think he has the required ability to play at centre-half. A move to the defensive midfield position could save his Arsenal career, and save the Club a small fortune.