By Chris Harris
Thomas Vermaelen has proved that you don't need to be a big name to be a big player.
That's the view of Arsène Wenger, who brought the Belgian international to Emirates Stadium during the summer and has seen his new acquisition take English football by storm.
Vermaelen has already won over the Arsenal fans, scooping the August Player of the Month award after some sterling performances at the back. And he has answered the critics who claimed he was too short to cut it in the Premier League.
Wenger has uncovered a treasure trove of talent throughout his 13-year spell in North London, transforming the likes of Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg and Cesc Fabregas from relative unknowns into world-class performers. Vermaelen is following a similar path and is expected to line up against Standard Liege in his homeland this evening.
Speaking ahead of the Champions League group stage opener, Wenger explained why Vermaelen caught his eye when he was shopping for a centre-back earlier this year.
"He is a competitor; he is a fighter," said the manager.
"I liked his intelligence when he played against us [for Ajax]. The reading of his game and the quality. I like as well to have a right-footed and a left-footed player at the back, because it's natural and it's good for passing out of the back like we want to play. So that is something interesting, and the fact that he's a resilient guy.
"I think he [Vermaelen] has surprised many people because it was first of all a little bit of an anonymous buy. For me he has everything I like in football; he doesn’t talk but is committed on the pitch. There is not big publicity when you buy the player, but he surprises people by the quality of his performances; that's what you like.
"On the other hand it shows as well that even if players are not necessarily known all over Europe, they are still good players who are ignored a little bit."
Perhaps the greatest criticism levelled at Vermaelen when he signed for Arsenal was his perceived lack of height. But the 23-year-old is hardly diminutive. Vermaelen is six feet tall and, according to Wenger, has the ability to jump higher than taller opponents.
"I believe he turned off many people for being a centre back in England because of his size," said the Frenchman. "It's true, you must get over that first reluctance of 'is he tall enough to play here?' because you expect a centre back to be six feet four inches in England.
"But he compensates that with a good reading of the game, and people ignore that he has a good leap, a fantastic leap. He's very good in the air. [Roberto] Ayala had a fantastic leap, the Argentinean. Les Ferdinand too, he was unbelievable. I was surprised when I saw him for the first time, how small he was."Copyright 2013 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 16 Sep 2009