At this point, most of us have sort of reached the conclusion that Arsenal's back four, and in particular the central players, haven't really figured out what they're supposed to be doing and may not be capable of actually doing it. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not they are actually capable for now, the slight possibility is floating around that the current duo of Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker are on the outs right now. Whether or not that is true (it's hard to imagine Wenger making such a drastic change to the spine of his team), the two haven't exactly put in sterling performances lately. If you haven't watched Gary Neville's analysis of Arsenal's defending from Sunday's North London Derby, it's well worth a view:
Two things immediately jump out at me from watching this video:
1) Thomas Vermaelen's weaknesses (positional discipline, communication) are pretty much two weaknesses you'd really rather your central defender did not have, and
2) Vermaelen loves going to the ball (see especially the moment in Tottenham's first goal when he seems to get sucked forward towards Gylfi Sigurdsson, who's fully 15 yards away and patently not Vermaelen's responsibility).
It's been clear in many games this season (Manchester City immediately comes to mind) that Vermaelen just simply refuses to do the simple thing when defending in a high line. It's fair at this point to ask what his strengths are. I would submit that these are:
- Decent tackling
- Aggression (which isn't a strength unless used properly, which he sometimes does, but not often).
If Arsenal keep Vermaelen and (Daily Mail link; don't click if you don't like them) Barcelona don't try to buy him for £15m pounds (which like, I'd snap their arms off), is it possible that his strengths could be put to use in a more advanced position that doesn't involve him trying to hold a line high or otherwise?
Is Thomas Vermaelen, simply put, Arsenal's next defensive midfielder/destroyer?
Let's look at what we know about Vermaelen in a positive sense. He's quick, he's aggressive, and he loves going to the ball. He's not tiny (6'0"). He can tackle reasonably well. These seem like fair qualities for a DM to have.
However, there is every possibility that the very thing that has caused Vermaelen problems in defense would be equally as huge a liability in the midfield three or double pivot: positioning. One thing a DM really shouldn't do is classic Vermaelen, and that's to run forward like the devil himself, chasing the ball, and leaving a huge gulf of space where he was standing just a moment before. It's been a problem for Vermaelen this year (and in the past) in the defense, and it'd be a problem at DM in the same vein, only with a little bit of cover (hopefully).
Another possible knock on Vermaelen at DM is his range of passing, which is okay, but not great, as well. If he could somehow improve that and decide to learn about positioning, then TV as DM seems like it COULD work, but then, if he could've learned positioning by now, he'd be a better central defender, and this discussion wouldn't be happening, so it might be a fool's errand to even bring this up.
What do you all think? Is Vermaelen a potential defensive midfielder for Arsenal, or is that simply a horrible idea?