Thomas Vermaelen fits the bill of the modern central defender

Thomas Vermaelen’s technical prowess and reading of the game will help Arsenal both at the back and in building up attacks.

Arsenal’s defensive perils have always seemed slightly exaggerated, if a tiny bit superficial. Yes, it would help if the defenders were taller but the height issue always seems to rear it’s head as a talking point whenever Arsenal didn’t perform as well as an attacking unit.

As a reader keenly pointed out, teams must defend as a team but the same is also true when attacking. Arsenal are a possession based team and their ability to keep the ball is both a form of defense and as a means of sustaining the pressure at the other end. The deployment of the high line enables the ball to be circulated continuously to build up pressure. The permeations of this however is that it means the centre backs must be adept at passing the ball and reading the game, while being highly mobile so as to keep the game flowing and be ready for a swift counter attack.

In the past two seasons Arsenal have had three notable headers of the ball; Sol Campbell, Phillipe Senderos and Pascal Cygan (the less we talk about the latter the better). The former two on the whole produced good partnerships with whomever they lined up with as they were the ones who attacked the ball if play broke down while the other stayed back. They also passed the ball well, read the game comfortably and by attacking the ball almost made up for their slight lack of pace. And with the signing of Thomas Vermaelen, Arsene Wenger will be hoping he has found the right balance this time.

Arsenal have been following the Belgian since the age of 16 along with Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany and the move has baffled a few, mainly due to his height or rather lack of. But at 6ft, FIFA reckon it’s the ideal height for the modern top player. The governing body’s research suggests such players make up the height because of their powerful leap, an area where Vermaelen excels at. Around 30% of goals are scored from set pieces (half of that penalties) and 70% from open play (40% are scored from quick breaks). Last season in all competitions, Arsenal conceded 7 headed goals, 9 goals altogether from set pieces (not counting penalties). 16 goals were scored from quick breaks and having admitted goals conceded was the Gunners main downfall, Wenger will hope Vermaelen will help contribute to a lower goals against tally next campaign.

Indeed Vermaelen’s rainbow of skills should put him at a good advantage but it would be foolish to think the Belgian will get to the speed of the English game straight away. While he has great underlying potential, praised by Ronaldo De Boer no least, Ajax fans feel they have not seen the best of him.

An underwhelming season as skipper for Van Basten’s side saw Ajax finish third and the manager sacked. A 4-1 defeat to Vitesse raised a few questions among the Dutch press about Vermaelen’s suitability to Arsenal; he seems comfortable challenging on the ground and in the air when close to his marker but was exploited on the break on more than a couple of occasions in the fixture, going against one of the chief reasons why he was signed. Vermaelen will no doubt point out the weak cover in front of him but having been watched for a long time, it seems rather the lack of quality around him than the actual player himself which was the main cause. The overwhelming  feeling however is that Arsenal have a potential diamond in the rough here, and there is no better person than Arsene Wenger to polish off the edges.

Characteristics 0f Elite Players (FIFA)

• Height: 181cm
• Weight: 74kg
• VO2Max: 60 to 65ml
• Sprint 10m: 1’’78
• Sprint 20m: 2’’89
• Sprint 60m: 7’’43
• Jumping height: 63cm
• Great speed of movement and
• Dynamism
• Technical skills
• Muscular power
• Ability to recover quickly
• Ability to repeatedly produce short
and intensive efforts
• Tactical understanding
• Mental strength and self control

9 thoughts on “Thomas Vermaelen fits the bill of the modern central defender

  1. I will confess, i have never seen Vermaelen play, hence i have no judgement on him, only to hope for the best.

    My diagnosis all season was as a defensive unit, we have lacked leadership, in terms of holding the perfect line and playing with intelligence. I am a big fan of William Gallas, Bacary Sagna never neglects his defensive duties, where the problems have arisen is in the other two, and this has comprised of Kolo Toure(bad physical conditioning and bad defensive know how), Mikael Silvestre(not combined effectively with the rest of the unit), Johann Djourou(not a natural defender), Gael Clichy(loses concentration and too attack minded), Kieran Gibbs(not a natural defender yet).

    Another weakness is the high line. It may work if you have efficiency up front, the reality is we have not had that, it may work if you have midfielders who respect the defensive part of the game, the reality is they do not, and then applying a high line with two out of the four defenders capable, it leads to problems.

    Personally, i am not a fan of players that are there just to head the ball away, or boot it away, it is simply giving the ball away. My dream for Vermaelen would be him being able to push forward with good passes that set up our attacks, more often than not, the quality of passes out of defence for attacks has not been what is required. As long as there is a ‘void’ in central midfield, we will need a defender to push in to try aid that segment.

  2. Admittedly, I have only seen him twice, but I’m encouraged by the current signs.

    Many have – as you state – criticised him for his lack of stature as centre-backs go, but the fact he is Ajax’s highest rated man-marker (you have to be doing pretty well if you’re assigned to mark Toivonen (sp)) suggests he has the leap – of which you speak – to compensate.

    He’s also an effective man-marker as you allude to.

    When covering the channels and an high-line, the use of one’s body can be just as, if not more important than pace, and in this respect, Vermaelen appears very able.

    He has been used quite frequently as a left-back, but I don’t feel he has the stamina to play this role, which is what tends to lead to him getting caught out by quick breaks (he’s more than willing to push forward, but doesn’t always have the energy to get back in time).

    Having seen him for myself – albeit on a limited basis – I think he has the potential to be a very good player.

    Good article BTW (Y) Where did you find the FIFA criteria?

    1. Good comment (from New Gooner as well). Regarding using your body, it’s a good point as players like Carragher are especially good at it and one which saw Sol Campbell succeed though he did have a fair bit of pace.

      @ New Gooner: Djourou has come on leaps and bounds and is surely the future for Arsenal in defence. Toure still has a lot to offer while I’ll say Clichy is one of the toughest defenders to get past. Going to your point about efficiency, it is difficult with teams defending so deep to break them down. Even Barca will have problems. Next season we can go with much optimism as the team is looking more dynamic. As a team unit, Denilson needs better cooperation or whoever does come in.

      – The FIFA criteria. Admittedly, I’ve had it for quite a while now so the data is slightly old (2004) but it shouldn’t matter as there hasn’t been much change since. Here’s a link I managed to track down; it’s a PDF file, just to warn those with slower connections.

  3. nice post on vermaelen. i wonder what impact he’ll have on the team.
    i think an intelligent, well positioned player is just what we need. looking back at some of the goals we’ve given up, such as in the 4-4 liverpool game towards the end of hte season, the defense was incredibly bad, especially when it came to positioning, which led to many of the goals we conceded. i remember kolo being especially culpable for the positioning mistakes – at times there were 3 ‘pool players in the box unmarked when they scored.
    i also remember the first pool game of the season, when the high line was susceptible to the long balls that the scousers kept hoofing – keane’s goal still sends pangs of anger through my heart, hahaha.
    can’t wait for hte season to start again. i will definitely be following arsenal column in the approaching campaign, to supplement my watching of course.
    thanks, john

  4. btw, as to defense being important, i remember one game in which we executed properly. it was the second leg against villareal, when we pressured and harried them properly. i dont remember a game in which we ever defended so well. the whole team defended together, double teaming to cut down passing lanes. that game for me was the breakout game of alex song, who was almost everywhere. we need more games like that.

    1. Yes, that was the game where Wenger felt best for Arsenal to take the tempo to the opponents. He dropped Denilson for Song because he wanted to pressure high up and win the ball back quickly; making sure the play was on Villarreal’s side of the pitch.
      Pressuring does need organisation. At Chelsea, Wenger played a similar tactic although the formation changed to a 4-5-1. RVP’s role as the second striker is underrated in creating pressure so that was lost and Arsenal were all over the place, losing 4-1. Hoepfully, pre-season can be the time where more defensive/pressure work can be done as Pep Guardiola so fantastically instilled in Barca’s game last year.

  5. In my opinion he is the perfect modern central defender! He has all the attributes to be a success at Arsenal and he is doing so. He is the best defender there and will go on to become one of the worlds most prolific goal scoring defenders and best overall defenders. And I’m not even an Arsenal fan!

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