Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday September 4 2011
Choosing a Player of the Month for August is akin to selecting great moments in the history of Chelsea F.C. pre 2005. The pickings are pretty bloody slim. Arsenal played five games in August, with the team a patchwork of make do and mend toy soldiers. A mixture of injuries, suspensions and a failure to address squad issues until the 11th hour of the transfer window have made for an inauspicious start. Culminating of course in a humiliating 8-2 reverse at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, there are still candidates from which to choose. Theo Walcott already finds himself on three goals for the season, two of which were crucial in securing Champions League qualification- August`s only real bright spot. Unfortunately for Theo, aside from the actual goals, he`s been pretty fecking terrible in truth. His performance against Liverpool was barely Sunday League standard. However, prior to the Old Trafford mauling, believe it or not, Arsenal were beginning to look rather sold defensively. With a complimentary axis of Koscielny and Vermaelen and d a goalkeeper behind them who doesn`t look like filling his briefs every time a ball comes towards him, we have looked quite formidable at the back.
It`s only when the back line has been decimated that we`ve looked porous. This leaves me with two predominant contenders for August Player of the Month. Wojciech Szczesny looks every inch Arsenal`s number 1. Commanding in his area, he has the kind of confidence that any top custodian needs. His interaction with the coaching staff appears obvious. Szczesny begins edging off his line very quickly this season. This is an obvious attempt to claim the ball as often as possible and relieve the pressure from his defence. He of course needs to exercise greater caution here. Rooney came close to lobbing him at Old Trafford, whilst Charlie Adam was moved to attempt shots from the halfway line twice in the Liverpool match. But then of course there was that vital penalty save in Udine, a quite stunning stop.
However, Wojciech doesn`t collect this month`s prize. Though I wouldn`t hold him responsible for any of the concessions in Manchester, it is difficult to give the award to a keeper that has just shipped eight goals. With that in mind, my first choice, Thomas Vermaelen, probably finds his candidacy better served by his lack of association with that particular debacle. In fact, that defeat showed just how important Vermaelen has become to our team. With Fabregas having left, Vermaelen finds himself as vice captain. With the full time skipper a centre forward, Thomas is essentially the appointed leader in the defensive half of the pitch.
It`s a role he has adopted effortlessly. Against Newcastle United, he took charge of every aerial battle, shielding Kieran Gibbs from the height advantage enjoyed by Shola Ameobi stationed on the Magpies` right. As well as being a world class bread head, Joey Barton is renowned for his set piece delivery. However, his unerring delivery was no match for Vermaelen`s flying forehead. The Belgian`s leadership skills have been tested to their utmost capacity as well, with the back line shape shifting. Sagna has found himself shun ted out to left back and young Carl Jenkinson- playing non league football just over a year ago- has come into the back four. When Koscielny hobbled out of the Liverpool fixture, he also had to guide Premier League debutant Ignasi Miquel through for 70 minutes. Bear in mind that Miquel is left footed, so Vermaelen also had to shift out of his comfort zone to the right side of the centre half pairing.
The result was one of the better performances I`ve seen from an Arsenal defender in the last 5 years. His was a commanding yet guiding display. £35m striker Andy Carroll wasn`t even permitted to scrounge for pennies on the floor, let alone get any change from Vermaelen. He was hauled off after 70 minutes, presumably only after being given permission by the Verminator to leave his pocket. However, ultimately an unfortunate own goal (which incidentally did not come from Vermaelen`s side of the defensive pairing) and a red card were ultimately our undoing.
Out in Northern Italy, Vermaelen again took on the headline role in a defence that was only really troubled when Johan Djourou fell asleep in the first half. I must confess, in the time he was out injured last season, I thought Gooners had begun to make too much of his absence. Don`t get me wrong, I`ve always rated the ex Ajax defender. But it`s tempting and rather easy to turn someone into Paulo Maldini whilst they`re on the treatment table. However, there was a last ditch tackle he executed in the last game of last season at Craven Cottage that changed my thinking. With Andy Johnson in on goal just three yards out, Vermaelen swooped in with a fulminating last ditch slide tackle.
That`s when it struck me; Vermaelen is a defender that loves defending. He relishes putting his body on the line, the blood and thunder of the challenge, to be amidst the flying elbows of an aerial duel. To be where there`s life. That`s why the Arsenal fans sang, "Thomas Vermaelen, we`ve missed him all year" in reaction to that tackle. This is exactly the sort of defender Arsenal have lacked at times since Sol Campbell`s departure. Vermaelen has been asked to step up and take extra responsibility now. The early signs are good that he is doing just that. Vermaelen is one of the leaders of our squad and also, undoubtedly, one of the best players in it too. In August, he has showed why rather emphatically. LD.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Sunday September 4 2011
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