Since joining Arsenal from Ajax in 2009, Thomas Vermaelen has been integral to Arsene Wenger’s side despite the Gunners’ lack of silverware. The Belgian defender has established himself as one of the Premier League’s best and despite an injury-hit season in 2010/11 and a dip in form at the beginning of 2012/13; he has been consistently one of Arsenal’s better players.
Arriving in 2009/10, Vermaelen quickly illustrated his attacking prowess with 7 Premier League goals in his debut season. Only Cesc Fabregas (15), Andrey Arshavin (10) and Robin van Persie (9) scored more goals for Arsenal than the Belgian international. He endured an injury-hit season in 2010/11 and only played 5 games, in which he wasn’t able to score. Making a proper return in 2011/2012 however, he scored 6 goals despite missing almost two months of the season in order to get further treatment on his troublesome Achilles tendon. Vermaelen has failed to score so far in the 2012/13 Premier League (has scored in the League Cup), but his powerful left foot and ability in the opposition’s penalty area make him a constant threat in an attacking sense.
Thomas Vermaelen 11/12 stats on the left, 12/13 on the right
A quick look at last season’s defensive stats and one area sticks out like a sore thumb – in just 20 games this season Vermaelen has already made five errors in comparison to last season where he only committed three in 28 games. He’s also been dribbled past twice as much in 8 games less this season. So his form at the heard of defence has been poorer than last season.
However Arsenal’s defensive kingpin also has a strong disciplinary record. He has conceded just 18 fouls in 20 games this season, admirable for a defender, and has only been sent off once for the Gunners in his four seasons in the Premier League.
Vermaelen’s competency with the ball at his feet is not in question. His passing accuracy so far this season is 87%, compared to 85% in 2011/12, 88% in 2010/11 and 83% in 2009/2010. One particular area in which Vermaelen has improved is his pass accuracy in the opposition’s half. In his first season he completed 68% of his passes whilst in 2011/12 and 2012/13 he has registered 75% and 73% respectively.
Despite suffering a dip in form in 2012/13, Vermaelen remains one of Arsenal’s key players. He has suffered some criticism for his performances this season, not least when he gave the ball away to allow ex-teammate van Persie to give Manchester United the lead in Arsenal’s 2-1 away defeat.
Vermaelen finds himself in this season’s top 20 most error prone players, perhaps the biggest indication of his poor start to the season. Vermaelen has made the joint-third most errors in the league this season (5), two of which have resulted in a goal. With Bacary Sagna and Aaron Ramsey also present in the top 20 most error prone players, Arsenal’s collective defensive woes this season are of a greater concern than Vermaelen’s individually. However, he has shown signs of returning to his usual high standards, typified by his goal-line clearance to prevent Chelsea’s Demba Ba from putting the game out of Arsenal’s reach in their 2-1 defeat on Sunday.
One of Vermaelen’s weaknesses is his aerial frailty in defensive situations. Standing at 1.84m, he arguably suffers from a lack of height for a centre-back. His aerial dual win percentage in 2009/10 stood at 58%, compared to 56% in 2011/12 and 58% so far in 2012/13.
This is in direct contrast with his tackle win success rate which stands at 70%, 83% and 84% for the same years. This relationship was illustrated perfectly last week when Arsenal lost 2-0 to Manchester City. Having had Laurent Koscielny sent off early in the game, Vermaelen made more tackles (4) than any of his teammates and won each of them. His performance in the air was less impressive, winning only 43% of his aerial duels. Evidently more comfortable with the ball on the ground, many of Arsenal’s defensive questions have been based on who should partner Vermaelen, rather than questions of the Belgian himself.
Arsenal have come to rely on Vermaelen’s leadership qualities ever since he arrived from Ajax. His signing occurred somewhat under the radar but he played the most minutes of any Arsenal player during his debut season and his versatility means he is able to play at left-back when required.
Vermaelen’s compatriots Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Dembélé and Jan Vertonghen to name a few have all made a name for themselves in the Premier League, and Vermaelen has been no different.
Any Arsenal and Belgium team with Vermaelen in is a stronger one, and with the Belgians currently sitting top of their 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group, he will be central to their future success as well as Arsenal’s.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.