By Chris Harris

Arsène Wenger says Thomas Vermaelen has shown his mental and physical toughness by playing through the pain barrier this season.

Little was known of the Belgian defender when he arrived at Emirates Stadium last summer but the 24-year-old has been a revelation in his first year in English football.

Vermaelen's stats tell their own story. He has started 44 games - eight more than any other Arsenal player - and has missed only one Premier League match, when he was serving a suspension at Birmingham last month.

The former Ajax defender has been commanding at the back and, rather more surprisingly, has contributed eight goals too, making him Arsenal's fourth top scorer. Wenger had high hopes for Vermaelen - and he admits the Belgian has exceeded them.

"I quickly knew that Thomas Vermaelen was a good football player but you don't know while he doesn't come to England, how tough he is mentally and physically," said Wenger.

"That was the big surprise to us because this guy has been exceptional this year and he has played so many games, sometimes with big pain.

"That's why I believe he will be a very important player in the future for us."

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13 Apr 2010