10 Things We Learnt In Lockdown With Thomas Vermaelen by Dan Smith
Thomas Vermaelen was the man who had the responsibility of replacing the popular Kolo Touré. Based on his first 12 months he looked like he could be the permanent leader of a young Arsenal squad, but in hindsight he admits he never recovered from an Achilles injury which required surgery. Some would argue he is still to recover, meaning that when Barcelona paid 15 million for him it was a rare case where all parties were happy.
Here are 10 Things We Learnt In Lockdown With Thomas Vermaelen.
When He Played in First Game At Emirates.
This is a good pub trivia question for some of your fellow gooners. If you ask when Vermaelen played at the Emirates for the first time, most might answer 2009 as logically that’s when he signed for Arsenal. In fact, he featured in Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial which was used to open the stadium. On that day in 2006 he not just marked Bergkamp but one of his teammates was Johan Cruyff, which for a 21-year-old who had been in Holland for 6 years was pretty special.
Gallas A Leader?
William Gallas seemed to fail to lead a young dressing room and his popularity with gooners is harmed by him joining Spurs. Yet it’s only correct that we point out when someone compliments his ability as a captain. Vermaelen credits him for helping him on and off the pitch while he settled into England. Their partnership saw him get picked in the PFA Team Of The Season.
Goal Scoring Defender
Vermaelen quickly grew a reputation for getting the odd goal, including long range strikes with his left foot. He scored 8 times in his first 12 months in North London, yet only 9 times in 6 years at Ajax. The defender says this shows the difference in culture between Holland and England. He had been taught to bring the ball out from the back and move into midfield, that’s part of the Dutch education. He quickly realised opponents in the Premiership were not used to a centre back joining in with attacks so could take them by surprise.
Perhaps an example of how Vermaelen was growing into a leader fairly quickly? In 2010 at Stoke Aaron Ramsey broke his leg, just two years after many of the same squad saw something similar happen to Eduardo at Birmingham. The reactions to the two injuries are different. Many believe Arsenal’s youngsters mentally fell apart in 2008 that day at Saint Andrews due to the distressing scenes. At the Britannia, Vermaelen remembers the rallying cry of ‘let’s win this for Aaron’. While he felt sad for his teammate as he knew how serious it was, he didn’t let it affect his game.
With the benefit of hindsight, Vermaelen explains it was hard to get away from negativity, even when the team were doing well. He says from day 1 he heard the whispers of the squad being too young, not enough leaders, etc. He uses Stoke away as an example, accusing his peers of spending too long during that week warning each other how tough a fixture it is, worrying about the long throws, etc, and not enough energy on how good they were themselves at keeping possession.
Whether it be Walcott, Wilshire, the Ox, …. we always seemed to have talent who couldn’t get a run in the team due to niggling injuries, to the point our medical department started to get questioned. Vermaelen’s story doesn’t put them in the best of light. In September 2010 he had an injury which he was told wasn’t serious and kept getting dates to work towards. He started to get worried when he wasn’t getting better and eventually required surgery. What was meant to be a knock that kept him out for a few weeks was now a case of having to miss 51 games (the whole season). When he got the same problem on the other foot, this time doctors knew what to do, so gave him treatment for the exact same injury but instead of being on the side-lines for 230 days, now it was just 49.
Lack Of Standards
If this was a court of law, I would use a statement from this podcast to prove how standards were allowed to drop over the years. Vermaelen defends Arsenal’s record, at times suggesting the criticism we get was a bit harsh at times. He points out how difficult it was to always finish in the top 4. Bearing in mind this is our ex captain and he seems to have settled for only qualifying for the Champions League (most likely due to seeing so many good players leave?) So, if that’s his mindset and he’s leading a dressing room?
Ending Trophy Drought
Despite being an unused sub when we beat Hull, our captain still felt very much part of our FA Cup success. He rightly points out he started most rounds including the semi-final. At that point he had also been part of a group who for 5 years had struggled with the pressure of ending our trophy drought (he says how low he felt missing a pen at Bradford a year earlier in the League Cup Q-Final). He says the day Mr Wenger made him permanent captain; he didn’t want to be a captain who failed to lift a trophy.
It Was Arsenal’s Choice To Sell Him
Contrary to reports he didn’t know the FA Cup was his last game as a Gunner. He was told Arsenal had accepted an offer which didn’t surprise him as he was behind Koscielny and BFG. When he found out Barcelona were the bidders he agreed. His time in Spain continued to be plagued by injuries, playing 41 League games in 5 years. Meaning it was the right time for us to sell him when we did for 15 million.
Vermaelen picked Vessel Kobe as they have a working relationship with Barcelona, signing his ex-teammates David Villa, Iniesta and Sergi Samper. While injuries have still been an issue for the Belgian he played in their two cup final wins (the second a world record for 9 consecutive missed penalties).