18 December 2013

Koscielny's injury presents Vermaelen his chance

Ever since his demotion from the starting line-up, Thomas Vermaelen has conducted himself with the utmost professionalism, refusing to complain while continuing to support the club and dutifully living up to what he's been asked to do, which has consisted mainly of sitting on the bench despite being the club's nominal captain while watching Per and Kos rack up an impressive string of clean sheets and victories. In fact, the last time Vermaelen started was against Man U, when we lost 1-0, something that his critics surely hold against him, as van Persie's headed/shouldered goal would be just the kind of thing Per would have shut down.

They may have a point. Hindsight is, after all, 20-20. By this logic, van Persie scored because Vermaelen was in whereas Per would've been there to head clear. However, this is not necessarily fair or true. It's water under a bridge, to be honest. Man U had one shot on target, and it went in. We had only two shots on target. That's not a recipe for success, and to blame Vermaelen for the defeat is missing the point. Heck, if you trust the stats, Vermaelen was one of our best performers on that day, earning a 7.4 from whoscored.com, second-best behind Gibbs's 7.6.

To address the core of the issue, Koscielny looks to be out for about two weeks. An official report is still forth-coming, but an unofficial report in the French newspaper L'Equipe suggests that Kos has received ten stitches and will be out of action for ten to fifteen days. Take that with a grain of salt or two. For what it's worth, the good news is that this implies that Kos's injury is minor, just a flesh-wound as the saying goes, and not anything deeper or more significant. If there had been more-extensive damage, we'd be looking at an absence of months, not weeks. As it stands, it looks as if Alvaro Negredo's cleat sliced Kos's knee but didn't do any major damage. The gash, as ugly as it may look, will prevent Kos from playing against Chelsea on Monday, but he may be available as early as the West Ham fixture on 26 December.

Looking for a silver lining, Kos's injury offers Vermaelen, once one of our most dynamic defenders, a chance to reprove himself. It's ideal, in fact, as it allows him to fill the role that Kos has performed to this point, that of the roaming, attacking center-back supported by Mertesacker's more-cautious, zonal defending. After all, for as consistent and reliable as the Kos-Per axis has been, it's well-worth remembering how well Vermaelen has performed in the past, both as a defender and as an attacker. Not to take away for Kos by any stretch, but Vermaelen's contributions to the attack had been so vital that he's regularly touted as a defensive midfielder rather than a center-back, not that I endorse that sort of thing. His skill-set, if not his mind-set, is best when he has the field and the action in front of him.

Therefore, I don't look at Kos's injury as a setback. It's more of a crisitunity, a chance for Vermaelen to show what he's made of. He's shown what he's made of in previous years, and, rather than ruing the absence of Koscielny, I'm looking forward to the resurgence of Vermaelen. After all of the talk of depth and rotation, it's a welcome change of pace to see that, with the injury of a key starter, his replacement is none other than the club-captain.

In other words, Kos's absence is not necessarily a set-back. It may not be an upgrade. Maybe it's a one-for-one substitution. One way or another, we'll need Vermaelen, vintage 2011-12, going forward. After all, the man has proven his loyalty over the last nine months or so, riding the bench without complaint while Kos and Per forged a strong partnership. Now that he has his chance, I'm sure he'll seize it. Bring it on, Tom; I'd love nothing more than to lavish praise on a dominant performance against Chelsea on Monday...