By Giuseppe Muro

Arsène Wenger admits he would have tried harder to sign another defender if he had known that Thomas Vermaelen was going to be sidelined for virtually the whole season.

Vermaelen was expected to miss a few weeks after picking up an Achilles injury on international duty in September but tendon problems eventually kept him out of action for eight months. In his absence, Wenger considered adding cover to the Arsenal backline during the January transfer window but no signing was made.

The Belgian defender could return to the first team at Stoke on Sunday and the manager says he would have added to his defensive options if the 25-year-old’s prognosis had been clearer from the start.

“I would have tried,” said Wenger. “He had a setback at the end of January but we hoped he would play the second part of the season.

“[But] football is not a supermarket where you go and say 'I want a good player, give me one please'. You must find them and in the middle of the season to find a player who strengthens Arsenal is not easy.

“We did not have Vermaelen for the whole season but, if you look at the numbers, we conceded less goals from open play than any other team in the league. So it is not all negative, even defensively.”

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6 May 2011