In the last eight years, Arsenal have sold three of their last four captains to Barcelona. Thomas Vermaelen’s transfer marks the latest in a long line of movers from the Emirates Stadium to the Camp Nou.
But unlike the last captain to make this particular switch, there has been no ill feeling among Arsenal supporters, predominantly because Vermaelen isn’t the player he once was, and, considering the partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, was entirely expendable.
Once again Arsene Wenger has moved on a once-important player at the right time. Vermaelen is 28, has been out of the Arsenal first team for well over a year and has a history of injury troubles that could further hamper his efforts to regain his best form. Cesc Fabregas he is not; Vermaelen can no longer be truly considered at the peak of his powers.
And Barcelona aren’t up in arms about this either. It’s an underwhelming signing on their part, going along the same path that saw them sign Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia earlier in the summer. The Frenchman, a recently converted centre-back, has been key for Valencia since moving inside from his left-back spot, but he’s 30, has no prior experience of handling the pressures that come with a club like Barcelona, and, above all, his signing doesn’t cover the club for the long term.
Instead of Vermaelen as their second centre-back addition, Barcelona were said to be chasing Mats Hummels and Jan Vertonghen, and had also been frustrated in their efforts to sign Marquinhos from Paris Saint-Germain. Vermaelen was very much at the bottom of their list of options.
But Arsene Wenger and Arsenal won’t mind. They’ve got exactly what they wanted in not having to sell domestically to Manchester United, which would have done far more damage to their reputation than Vermaelen would have done on the pitch, either directly or indirectly.
In Barcelona, Arsenal have found the perfect opportunity, though also receiving a smaller fee, to move on from a player who was in decline and who very well could have been usurped as the third-choice option by Calum Chambers.
Wenger, once again, and though it hasn’t always been clear, has put the player’s best interest first while also keeping a mindful eye on his own house. Vermaelen will find a bigger role at Barcelona because, quite frankly, their central defence is far from stable, and even now with four centre-back options, plus Javier Mascherano who will move back into midfield, we don’t know who Luis Enrique’s first-choice pair will be.
Vermaelen very much has the opportunity to win himself a starting place at his new club and should also adapt well to their playing style, having been a part of similar philosophies while at Arsenal and Ajax.
And this is the best move for Arsenal too. The team’s central defensive group needed to get younger. Yes, Chambers is a long-term option, but another is needed. Kostas Manolas would make a lot of sense at 23 years of age; so too would Basel’s Fabian Schar, 22.
Barcelona, though not hitting the heights of the Luis Suarez deal, have added two experienced defenders in a period where they had to act; simply ‘getting by,’ as they had done in the past, was not an option. They’re covered now for numbers, and Vermaelen, Mathieu, Gerard Pique, and Marc Bartra should see them through the upcoming transfer ban.
In the meantime, Arsenal have moved on a player who was unsettled and have thus allowed themselves to freshen things up. Competition will prove to be a vital ingredient in seeing the club add to their FA Cup win.
A major sale was always going to happen this summer, and moving on Vermaelen is no great loss to Arsenal.