Today, we take a look at Thomas Vermaelen's 2012-13 season. Did we like it? (looks awkwardly down at feet, shuffles feet, stammers, slowly walks away)
I am not one who believes that a captaincy means much. It's a bit of cloth wrapped around a sleeve, and it confers the right for a player to discuss things with the referee - a right that every player these days takes, rather aggressively, when even the slightest, dumbest thing goes not-their-way. So I'm not sure that being captain is anything but a purely symbolic measure these days, and as such, I don't really care who gets the bit of cloth, as it doesn't really impact play in any measurable way. That said, Thomas Vermaelen wore the armband like it was made of a blend of lead, kryptonite, asbestos fibers, and dead puppies for most of the season. He was a natural choice to succeed van Persie as captain, after his play last season, but something went missing over last summer, and Verm struggled for a good portion of the year before being sat down for the most crucial stretch of the drive for the Fourth Place Championship Trophy Which Is Just Like A Trophy.
He provided RvP with a great assist at Old Trafford, which would have been fine last season but was a bit tricky this year as RvP doesn't play for Arsenal any more. He made lots of mental mistakes, and when those were combined with his long-standing tendency to wander completely out of position, it spelled doom for Arsenal many times early in the season. He never really found his form, which cost him his starting spot early in the spring - and Arsenal went on to have an amazing run-in, only dropping four points in the last couple months of the season. Correlation does not equal causation, but I have to think that benching Verm kinda helped Arsenal a bit this spring. I'm torn about TV - I think I want him back, but I think I want him as bench depth next season, and I think I want him hungry to prove this season was a fluke.
The Captain! Yeah, he didn't do so hot this year. He wasn't the defender that we'd gotten used to earlier in his Arsenal career, and instead basically embodied everything bad about his game all season. He was positionless. He overpursued. He made mistakes. The defense was ineffective and downright poor with him in it, and the defensive turnaround that carried Arsenal into the Champions League places started when he was replaced.
He didn't complain too much about losing his starting place, which is a positive, and he seems committed to staying in the team and regaining his lost form. Those are good things, but they don't make up for the poor performances, not entirely. Transfer rumors have swirled around him, but although 2012-13 was bad I think he should stay - at the very least, he's a better third-choice centerback than most we'd try to get, and honestly we need to add rather than replace at that position. But he needs to get better.
Thomas Vermaelen rather sucked. Kinda harsh to say, but so was his defending and overall play this past season. He cleared the ball a whole two yards off the side of his foot, right to van Persie at Old Trafford, which led to his goal and final knife in the backs of Arsenal supporters worldwide. He overpursued in defense at White Hart Lane which led to Aaron Lennon exploiting our high line. His general lack of awareness to others' positions on the pitch was alarming, considering there wasn't any turnover in the back line from the season before. A season, mind you, in which he tantalized us with well-placed tackles and runs in space (Newcastle home, anyone?) and saw him promoted to Captain. While the concept, effect and subsequent play expected of a captain is up for debate, surely more should have been expected from a player who's has many a great season to his name.
Fans all over feared the dreaded Curse of the Arsenal Captain, thinking Vermaelen was the next in a rather long line of captains leaving the club. After his sub-par season, too many wouldn't mind the curse taking its next victim.
I'm not sure if being handed the captaincy made Thomas Vermaelen have an awful season, but something was behind it. Yes, he's not as good as some thought he was after a good 2009-10 season and then a long absence due to injury, but I don't think he's as bad as last season. But last season. Oh boy. Those traits of overagression leaving to lots of space in behind? You know, Vermaelen's classic flaw problem? Yeah, that was very much evident. Vermaelen had a mostly awful campaign. It started out well, and then somewhere, like, say Bradford, it went to awful pretty bad. Vermaelen's performance at Bradford basically epitomized his season: he got caught out because he was too aggressive, and then did something stupid to compound the problem. In this case, he got nutmegged by Nahki Wells, and then fouled him, from which Bradford scored. Nutmegged by Nahki Wells.
Vermaelen somehow stuck around in the lineup after that, possibly because he was captain (if I was manager, I would've dropped him on the spot, but there are reasons why I'm not manager) and it's not easy dropping your captain. He was, of course, dropped before the Bayern Munich match, and didn't play much for the rest of the season, starting against Norwich and doing ok, and playing as an extra centre back for the final minutes in a few matches. He handled being dropped well, and I don't think it's a bad thing if he stays, but he has to improve.
The icy, mortifying stare of basilisk and center half Thomas Vermaelen used to scare the bejeezus out of me. In 2012-13, however, his eyes betrayed a deep sadness and sense of frustration. Note that 100% of the time, I'm against reading players' faces and bodies as indicative of performance, so I actually disagree with everything I just wrote. It's been a long day. Here's the point: Thomas Vermaelen had a bad year by his standards. His primary weakness, positioning, blew up to levianthanic proportions at times this year (Tottenham), while his admirable traits (pace, heading, aggression, ability to start attacks) never really came to the fore.
The Arsenal high line was often confused and erratic with him in charge--whether this is down to his aggression throwing other players off, or coaching, or what, isn't totally clear--but overall, his individual performances were mostly bad. Aidan cites Bradford; that's about all you need to know. This kind of thing happened too often this season for a Top Club Club club central defender. What does give me hope is that he has stayed quiet about Arsene Wenger dropping him, his only public words about it to the effect that he is willing to do whatever he can to fight for his place in the XI. And I hope he succeeds, because I want his icy stare back. He wasn't awful every game, but he had a below average year.