By Richard Clarke
Thomas Vermaelen first came to Arsène Wenger’s attention when he locked horns with Robin van Persie at the Amsterdam Tournament.
Tempers flared between the pair in the pre-season competition two years ago when the Belgian was still with Ajax. Wenger noted Vermaelen’s toughness and tenacity then returned last summer to take him to Emirates Stadium.
“I loved it,” said Wenger recalling the Van Persie incident.
“As a centre back you need to be fully committed. He is now 24, and at that time he was maybe 21 and wanted to show he could compete. I don’t know or remember if they shook hands afterwards but I remember some very committed games at the Ajax tournament.
“He played against Thierry Henry [in the same game] and kept him quiet. I thought ‘oh’ and remembered the name. I put him in my brain and kept it in there.
“I think what gave us a chance [to sign him] was from that moment on he played a lot at left back. A lot of people watched him a lot in England but saw him more at left back than at centre back.”
However, at Arsenal, Vermaelen is very much in the middle of the defence where, according to Wenger, he has brought the best out of his partner.
“Thomas is quiet, wants always to do well, he’s a hard worker as well as being mentally strong,” said the Frenchman.
“He is left-footed as well. That has two advantages as it allows us to play Gallas on the right-side, where he wants to play. This gives us a natural balance at the back when we want to play the ball out. You can see he plays through the channels with his left foot, and that is very interesting.”
In fact the only question mark early on concerned his height; six foot is on the small side for a centre back. Vermaelen’s towering header to open the scoring on Saturday provided the perfect response.
“You can question his height but not his leap,” said Wenger. “That makes up for his height. He’s taller than you expect him to be, he’s not small.
“He has a very strong upper body and has a very good leap. His leap is very sharp and that’s important. If two players go for a ball the one who jumps first will win it.”
Vermaelen’s Arsenal career is clearly coming on leaps and bounds.Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 21 Sep 2009