16 October 2013

Özil's knee will be fine for Norwich; Vermaelen's pride, however...

Further proof (such as it is) regarding Mesut Özil's availability comes courtesy of physioroom.com, which reports that he should be back by 19 October along with Rosický, Walcott, Cazorla, and Sanogo. I'll understand if some of those names elicit more excitement than do others. Here, for your consideration, is physioroom's
Courtesy of physioroom.com
estimation of each man's return. Of course, this is at least a level or two removed from an official announcement, but it's reassuring to see a site with some degree of legitimacy put its money where its mouth is. Whether the man plays on Saturday seems more like a matter of priorities than of fitness, then. Should Özil play alongside Cazorla to help them get acquainted, or should one (or both) rest ahead of Tuesday's clash with Dortmund?

On one hand, Dortmund offers the more glamorous challenge, what with Lewandowski's coy flirtations and the chance of us making progress while finishing atop Group F. On the other, our strong start still sees us level with Liverpool on points and only a whisker ahead of Chelsea. It's a toss-up, then. We have six points and need ten to advance from the group-stage (10.2, if you believe Arsène) and have four matches to play. As to the Prem, we can't afford to drop points against Norwich. It would be nice to see Cazorla and Özil play the first half to see if we can establish an early lead, with a reassessment at halftime to see if we can afford to rest them. It's not quite the luxury of choice, but it's a far-cry better than where we were after the 82nd minute of Germany's match with Sweden.

On to a touchier subject, there have been some murmurings, even grumblings, regarding Thomas Vermaelen's role. He touched a nerve, apparently, when he had this to say:
I’ll have to think about [my position] when it’s necessary. January is still a few months ahead. Of course, never playing will not be the ideal situation for me to go to the World Cup, that’s for sure. People ask me if I panic because I’m not playing a lot, but I’m not [panicking]. I have spoken to the manager, but it will remain private between us. Things can happen in a split second and change my situation. That can happen tomorrow or next weekend. In that case, we will speak differently in January. I have to be ready for that.
As always, more has been interpreted than has been said. He was asked a question about his role in the squad, and he answered, perhaps more forthrightly than is diplomatic. Then again, he is the current captain, and it has to eat at him to know that he's played 11 minutes of first-team football during this campaign, and those came as a subbed-in left-back in the 80th minute against Sunderland when we were already winning 3-1. These are hardly the bona fides of a team-captain, not to mention those of a man who hopes to play for his country in the World Cup. As it is, the criticism he's gotten for speaking his mind seems a bit harsh. The last time he played a full 90 minutes, was perhaps fittingly against Norwich back in April when we won 3-1 (ironic book-end, that). Between then and now, he's been asked to sub in three times, each appearance lasting a minute or two at most, and I have to say that he's born up under this rather well, celebrating the club's successes and, until that comment above, holding his tongue, to all outward appearances being a team player.

That's a lot to ask of anyone, even one whose form dipped as much as it did during the 2012-13 campaign. Between that and the remarkable form shown by the Kos-Per tandem, it's little wonder that Vermaelen has struggled to find match-time, just as it's small wonder that he finds himself sizing up his options. It would be one thing if there was some kind of rotation to allow him some time on the pitch, but he seems to have been all but frozen out. Between Per, Kos, and now Sagna, Vermaelen barely rates as an option at center-back, so is it any wonder that he's mentioned January? He hasn't asked to leave; he's merely pointed out that he and Arsène have spoken and that things can happen, which is about as revelatory as pointing out that rain is wet. Between now and the January transfer-window, there are no less than 17 matches to be played and 73 days in which to play them. a match every 4th day or, on average, and we're going to need more poor Tom sooner rather than later.

The last time I touched on the subject of Vermaelen's form was when I gave him a D+ on the year while hoping that he "will come back next year stronger and more-focused, ready to challenge for a starting role, even if the captain's armband goes to someone else along the way." I still hold to those words and hope that, should the opportunity arise, Vermaelen rises to the challenge. It's too early (I hope) to start talking in terms of boosting his value in the transfer-window; I'd prefer to think of him re-establishing himself as a first-choice center-back, rotating in and out depending on strategy or fitness. What do you think, though? Is there room for Vermaelen in the long term, or should we look to move him in January?