Absence does a wonderful thing for the reputation of players at Arsenal. Abou Diaby is talked up as a monster of a midfielder who simply can’t be discarded, Nicklas Bendtner was cheered on as a hero during an away game at Aston Villa a few years ago after a prolonged spell out injured, and now Thomas Vermaelen’s patchy form of the past has been forgotten. Until he returned to the team, that is.
Laurent Koscielny’s injury layoff is another huge worry for Arsenal with Manchester City this weekend and Everton away the following league fixture. It’s another reminder of just how much of a gamble Arsene Wenger has taken with this squad, going into this season with just three natural centre-backs in the team.
Club captain Vermaelen was reinstated into the starting XI against Swansea on Tuesday and offered another glimpse as to why he’s been dropped in favour of Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. For the arrival of Manchester City on Saturday evening, Arsenal’s hopes of shutting out Manuel Pellegrini’s side hasn’t been given much hope.
It would be accurate and fair to say Vermaelen hasn’t been the same for some time. He arrived from Ajax as a player the team had desperately been in need off, only to become another Arsenal player lost to long-term injury, and then a failure to recapture his old form on a permanent basis. Captain or not, his absence from the starting XI has been justified.
The defence is Arsenal’s biggest worry going into the game against City. In two prior league games, the team have shipped eight. Coupled with their inability to prepare for games against others in the top four, there can be only one outcome from Saturday’s game.
A loss would see Wenger’s side back where most expected them to be: battling for fourth, and like the past two seasons, with a battle on their hands to turn the tide in their favour.
Wenger stated in his pre-match press conference that none of the injured players had returned for the game, meaning there will be little opportunity for heavy rotation for a side who have succumbed so spectacularly to various pressures over the past week.
Another heavy defeat will most likely force another uninspired performance in the immediate aftermath. It’s games like this where Vermaelen, as the team’s captain, will need to show that he is capable of stepping in and offering continuity at the back. Not only that, but he needs to show an ability to lead this Arsenal team against those now challenging for the title in a way others have been unable to do.