Thomas Vermaelen is set to join FC Barcelona for around £15 million with the Spanish giants edging above Manchester United in the race to sign the Belgian international. Vermaelen is a player who will be missed at Arsenal but it’s important to remember that he fell down the pecking order quite significantly at Arsenal and was struggling for games at an Arsenal team that leaked goals frequently versus the top clubs last season. Have Barcelona got themselves a good defender then? Or is this an ill thought out defensive acquisition?
In 2012-13 Vermaelen made 29 appearances for Arsenal and it is here when he began to find himself out of favour. When he first signed Arsenal fans rated him highly because he seemed all action and scored goals. He was also good on the ball and completed 86% of his passes that season. However, his positional play has never been of a very high quality. Vermaelen regularly steps out of the back too early leaving gaps and can also get caught underneath things when the ball is in the air. Interestingly in 2012-13 he made a total of six defensive errors, a huge number for one defender to make. He made errors more frequently than any other Arsenal defender and subsequently began to lose the trust of the manager. Wenger will argue that he had injuries that hampered him but the signs were clear early on as Michael Cox noted as early as 2010. Cox shows that Vermaelen’s positioning is very poor which was regularly costing Arsenal. This is something that has persisted in his play at Arsenal, with him being a liability at the back sometimes.
As for Barcelona, they clearly sought after him because he is a strong, mobile defender who is good on the ball. Vermaelen is very comfortable at bringing it out from the back and finding a team-mate. He is also tall, which is a plus for what can be a Barcelona side lacking in height. That being said his poor positioning could make him suspect with a high-line, given that he doesn’t time his movements very well. Adept opposition forwards are likely to exploit him. He might be used more as a utility option, given his ability to play left as well as at centre-back. Not first choice, but a back up option, with Barcelona light in this park. He is an OK signing without being a good one. Arsenal won’t miss him and will relish the £15 million for a player in the last year of his contract. In truth he was just grossly over-rated when at Arsenal and often suspect defensively.