Leading By A Poor ExamplePosted: November 6, 2012
What do Arsenal do about the issue surrounding Thomas Vermaelen? Robin van Persie’s departure saw him awarded the captaincy almost by default, with his having previously been the vice captain and there being no other outstanding candidates for the role (as examined further in this). When on form he deserves it: he does have leadership qualities and is a very good centre back. But the fears of many have been justified: despite starting very strongly, his form has dipped. Severely; to the detriment of the team. Now Arsène Wenger has the difficult call as to whether to drop his captain or stick with him in the hope that he suddenly remembers how to be a good defender.
On the other side of the (de)fence, Per Mertesacker has taken full advantage of the opportunity given to him by Laurent Koscielny’s injury at the start of the season (see here for more detailed thoughts). He has been near-faultless and has showed that he was no dud, as he was labelled when he first arrived. He was given time in a settled defensive unit, alongside a partner with whom he had developed an understanding. Laurent Koscielny had been tasked with reclaiming his place from the German; but his best avenue may be grabbing Vermaelen’s spot.
Koscielny was unfortunate with the timing of his injury, but he has not done himself any favours with his performances. He was not at his best against Manchester City, his goal covering for a performance littered with small errors, he was very poor against Chelsea and terrible against Reading. There can be little doubting, if you have actually watched him, that he is an exceptional defender, but he has struggled thus far this year. His errors have had their roots in his rustiness but can he be relied on to deliver where Vermaelen has not, of late, given his own recent form?
Perhaps; perhaps not. The problem lies in the fact that Vermaelen does not deserve to be starting at the moment and Koscielny does not either, but something has to give. They are both very good central defenders who greatly under-performing. The Belgian looks like someone who has little fear of being dropped any time soon. Maybe a reminder of his mortal status will be the proverbial kick he needs to push him back to the level of which we know he is capable. And maybe a run of games will give Koscielny a chance to recover his form of last season.
It seems that Vermaelen will be moved to left back for the game away against Schalke with Koscielny coming in at centre back. Although Vermaelen is far, far, far from his best at left back, offers very little going forward and often gets caught out-of-position, he will be less susceptible to the threat of Jefferson Farfán than the even more out-of-form André Santos. It is almost dropping him without actually removing him from the team. Were his centre back performances up to scratch, he would be kept there and perhaps Francis Coquelin or Carl Jenkinson deployed on the left. It should act as a way of telling him that he needs to improve.
The importance of the captaincy is extremely overstated. In recent Arsenal past (and for most teams), the captain has been either the star player or a player who was guaranteed a start every week. Vermaelen is very much an outlier as he fits neither category and must be treated as such. Ideally the captaincy would be viewed as shared between himself and Mikel Arteta and even though this is not the case, he should not be entitled to start every game purely because he has the armband. And if his form does not pick up soon, the bench will beckon.