Arsenal’s decision to sell Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna during the summer transfer window led many fans to believe that Arsene Wenger would be focusing on defensive reinforcements to cure a long-term problem. Although Calum Chambers has shown maturity beyond his tender years following his arrival from Southampton, old problems have reared their ugly head yet again at the Emirates.
For all the wonderful free-flowing football the Gunners play going forward, their defensive weak spot has been exposed on a number of occasions, with individual errors, a lack of leadership and no strength in depth costing Arsenal dear in all competitions. Their defensive naivety came to the fore once again against Manchester United, with Arsenal’s problems symbolised by the late miss from Angel Di Maria who was clear through on goal from inside his own half with no defenders to be seen in front of him. While Robin Van Persie will have enjoyed playing against his former club more than Danny Welbeck did, it is Wenger who really needs to look at the upcoming January transfer window and make radical changes to his squad, with Vermaelen a potential loan target.
The 29-year-old Belgian has endured an injury-hit start to his Barcelona career, as he is yet to make his debut following his £15 million summer move. Arsenal fans were sad to see Vermaelen leave, but a potential loan deal in January would make sense for both parties; Vermaelen would be able to get much-needed game time under his belt when he returns from injury, while Arsenal would greatly benefit from having a good quality defender who can lead from example and knows what it takes to play in the Premier League. The latter point is arguably the most important for any January transfer target, as, more often than not, it takes time for players who have not plied their trade in England before to acclimatise and become accustomed to a new style of football. Vermaelen would slot in perfectly alongside Per Mertesacker, or even fill in at left back if Kieron Gibbs or Nacho Monreal were injured or suspended.
Arsenal clearly do not have enough defensive reinforcements to handle any absentees, and while Vermaelen would be an excellent loan signing, there needs to be considerable action during January to bring in good quality defenders and a top quality defensive midfielder who can hold it all together. The best teams defend as a unit, not as individuals or depend on the defensive line to do all the dirty work, with Wayne Rooney’s goal and Di Maria’s miss illustrating clear deficiencies in Arsenal’s ability to defend.
Why the deal is unlikely to happen
Arsenal fans may be tempted to get carried away at reports linking the club with a loan move for Vermaelen, as although he could make a big difference to the team’s ability to defend, a deal is unlikely to happen. The Belgian is still on the sidelines with a knee injury and will not be back for another 2 or 3 weeks, which raises doubts over whether he would be fit enough to have the impact Arsenal require. More importantly, Barcelona are unlikely to let a player who they paid a considerable amount of money for in the summer leave on loan, particularly as they themselves do not have many top quality defensive options. Luis Enrique’s side have shown gradual signs of improvement, although they still look vulnerable in defence – which is where Vermaelen comes into the equation when fit. Wenger is unlikely to be successful with a loan move for the Belgian, and should focus his attention elsewhere as pressure begins to mount on his shoulders to fix Arsenal’s defensive frailties.