Position: centre back
Previous teams: Ajax, RKC Waalwijk (loan), KFC Germinal Beerschot
Bio: After a mediocre 2008/2009 season which showcased the complete ineptitude of Mikael Silvestre as a defender, Arsenal fans were clamouring for a big signing in the centre back department. What they got was neither heralded nor ‘big’ in the physical sense. But when it came to guts, heart and effort, Thomas Vermaelen’s arrival from Ajax was a spectacular signature.
Spotted by Arsenal scouts on the Ajax training pitch, Vermaelen’s leap belied the fact he was ‘only’ six feet tall. A defender who can aerially compete even with the Peter Crouches of the world, Vermaelen has the steel glazed stare to accompany his determination on the field.
His partnership with William Gallas in his debut 2009/10 season was not the sturdiest, but it was immediately bearing fruit via goals scored. He opened his account on his debut against Everton at Goodison Park, in a match where Gallas also scored in a 6-1 demolition job of the hosts. His goal-scoring ability was confirmed with five goals in his first 11 games for the club, capped by a beauty from distance against Blackburn.
His enthusiasm for going forward and adding to Arsenal’s goal threat meant gaps were constantly left at the back, and his worst defensive showing arguably came at the hands of Lionel Messi, who destroyed the Gunners’ back-line with four individual goals in Barcelona’s 4-1 win at the Nou Camp.
Vermaelen’s second season for Arsenal was cruelled by an Achilles injury suffered on international duty for Belgium, and he spent the majority of that season on the sidelines, allowing Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou a long partnership. He featured late on with a few 90-minute showings at the tail-end of the season but could not halt the club’s alarming slide in form following the loss to Birmingham in the League Cup final.
Following Cesc Fabregas’s departure to Barcelona, Vermaelen was named vice-captain below Robin van Persie for the 2011/12 season. He would make 40 appearances in total, scoring six goals, including the dramatic injury-time winner against Newcastle.
But problems remained at the back due to his wont to get forward, and Arsenal’s defence struggled with the constant shuffling of players due to injury. Shorn of all four recognised full-backs, Arsenal played Vermaelen in his secondary position of left-back a number of times. Vermaelen added defensive solidity on the left but offered little from the flank when going forward.
The 2012/13 season saw Vermaelen named captain of Arsenal after van Persie’s departure to Manchester United. The new season looks to offer better defensive solidity with Steve Bould handling coaching of the back-line, and Vermaelen already looks to be curbing his attacking instincts in favour of marshalling the defence.