Monday, 21 November 2011

Vermaelen’s performance against Norwich proves why Arsenal are not a one-man team

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Thomas Vermaelen's performance against Norwich.

He’s barely been properly back for three weeks but already Thomas Vermaelen is re-finding the form he had right at the start of his Arsenal career. Two superb performances against Marseille and WBA were followed this weekend by another impressive display away to newly-promoted Norwich City.

In a typical performance for the Belgian centre-half, Vermaelen excelled in all areas of the pitch against the Canaries. At the back, his two interceptions were crucial to ensuring Norwich rarely got in behind a high defensive line, and although he did also give away one foul, his reading of the game meant he wasn’t forced to make a single ground tackle.*

As we’ve seen on a number of occasions with Thomas Vermaelen, the defender tended to push right up to the halfway line and get tight to his man – forcing all of Arsenal’s team to push up in accordance and increase the pressure on the Norwich midfield. One of Arsenal’s biggest problems in last season was the insistence on playing a high defensive line, but with little pressure applied further up the pitch.

This was much improved against Norwich, clearly in part due to the presence of a commanding centre-back in Vermaelen, whose aggressive style means the team knows they can take fewer risks.

In addition to his obvious defensive skills, Vermaelen has fitted right into the famous “total football” style of play often attached to Ajax (his old team) and Arsenal. With seven goals in his first season, and another one in only his second start this season, the Belgian has proved he has an eye for goal as well.

Vermaelen’s attacking nature was on display again at Carrow Road; completing one successful dribble and making one key pass as well as making the most long balls (total and successful) of any outfield player on the pitch with eight (seven of which found their target)*. Indeed, Arsenal’s vice-captain may well have got on the score-sheet himself had Theo Walcott’s cross found his head and not clipped the bar.

It’s important to note for anyone who hasn’t watched him this season that this performance – and the stats arising from it – was by no means a one-off. In fact, it was very much typical of his performances in an Arsenal shirt; this season he has averaged only 1.2 tackles per game, but has double the amount of interceptions, averaging three per game*.

Compare these with Laurent Koscielny’s stats for the season and it’s clear that Wenger has the perfect partnership in the works. The Frenchman has averaged more tackles per game (2.8), and slightly more interceptions (3.1) but is less aggressive in his approach – committing half as many fouls (0.6) and taking more risks by winning almost double the offside decisions (1.5 to 0.6)*.

After a lengthy injury, Vermaelen has clearly been taking tips from his captain on how to recover. Arsenal fans can only pray that the ‘Verminator’ remains fit – if he does, he will surely continue his fine form and Alan Hansen may finally run out of negative adjectives to describe The Gunners’ defence. What the Belgian brings to the side is just as important as the goals Van Persie will (or any other player) score this season, and must not be undervalued.

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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