08 August 2014

It looks like Vermaelen is off to Barça. £10m? Works for me.

Official confirmation is still in the offing, but a saga that has dragged on since the middle of last season looks to be entering its final chapter as Thomas Vermaelen looks ready to finalize a move to Barcelona, continuing a trend of Gunners leaving for the sunnier climes of Spain. There was a time when such moves would lead us to gnash teeth and rend garments, but this move feels quite a bit different. At the risk of slighting Vermaelen, the Camp Nou Express is no longer carrying coveted players but settling for second-choicers. Some may quibble with the reported transfer-fee, but I'd much prefer selling Vermaelen out of the Prem than to a rival like Man U. He may not be quite good enough to crack our starting XI, but if Barça need him, so be it.

We might mark the beginning of the end at 3 March 2013. For those with addled brains, that's the North London Derby that Tottenham found a way to win. The scene: Nacho Monreal had just joined the squad a month before. We were committed to playing a high defensive line—even though Tottenham featured Bale and Lennon, two fleet and occasionally dangerous wingers. Vermaelen, our captain, was twice culpable as Tottenham exploited that high line to score on their way to a 2-1 win. It was a nadir but not the death-spiral that a certain manager consigned to the Russian hinterlands dubbed it. It was also the match that may have marked the end of Vermaelen's time in London as well.

From that point forward, Vermaelen would play sparingly, relegated to the bench by the emergence of the Kos-Per axis (and the Arteta-Ramsey one as well) as we developed a firm defensive foundation for the first time since perhaps the Graham years. Vermaelen was never truly a defender; his forward-thinking instincts always dominated, resulting in the delivery of some famous goals but exposing him and the squad to disastrous concessions to boot. Most famous, of course might have been the "assist" at Old Trafford when Vermaelen squibbed a clearance that van Persie, himself freshly away from Arsenal, blasted home. That, of course, was back in 2012, but it looks, in retrospect, to be an omen rather than an aberration.

Throughout the entire 2013-14 season, he's become little more than an afterthought, an "oh yeah, whatever happened to Tommy Vermaelen?" His cameos here and there only serve to highlight his relegation. Through the ordeal, though, he has endured it with nothing but class and dignity. A lesser man would have found ways to leak his dissatisfaction to the press or been photographed smirking or sulking during a match. Vermaelen has been loyal, perhaps to a fault, as he's watched his chance at first-team football fade, first with Arsenal and then again with Belgium in the World Cup. At 28, this may have been his last best chance at representing his country. He missed it with nary a mutter.

If this rumored move to Barça proves true, Vermaelen will likely pair with Piqué while winning a few pieces of silverware along the way. I don't mind that in the least. It's far-better, of course, than seeing him help Man U climb back towards relevance.

All in all, this deal looks like it would be a win-win. The player gets a chance at first-team action and silverware; the club clears roster-space and sheds a non-homegrown player. That's a nice bit of business with no hard feelings to be found. If I may say so, it may even start to look like Barça's players are looking to Arsenal as a promotion while Gunners are looking to Barça as an opportunity for first-team action. We live in interesting times...