Thomas Vermaelen and his confusing Achilles

Morning all and welcome to a brand new week. Yesterday’s 0-0 between United and Sp*rs was probably the best result for us, meaning both teams have dropped two points. Gap closed at the top, widened at the other end. All in all a good weekend as we got back to business in the league. Next up for us is Wigan at home but between now and then there’s the FA Cup replay at Elland Road to contend with. No rest for the wicked.

We’ll start this morning with Thomas Vermaelen and as you’ll have seen by now he’s booked in for surgery on his achilles tomorrow. He says:

According to the specialist who will operate on me it’s a small tendon that runs next to the achilles tendon and is irritating it, and it needs to be taken out. It is a small tendon that doesn’t do very much. Hopefully that will solve it.

Ok, but what’s curious about this is that I received some information at the weekend from the same, very reliable, source who informed me that Thomas had had a setback 10 days ago. The situation was as follows: he had been booked for an operation but after a consultation with his specialist it was decided to postpone it because the specialist felt it wasn’t a recurrence of the injury, just the achilles reacting to full use again. It was decided he needed to rest and he was not supposed to train through the pain.

They were going to assess the situation again in a couple of weeks – which explains Arsene’s comments about being patient – but clearly something has changed and they’ve decided to use surgery to try and solve it once and for all. Whether that’s Vermaelen being unwilling to wait and discover that even after a couple of weeks extra rest he still has the pain, I don’t know. As a player I’m sure he’s anxious to get back playing as soon as possible so I suspect that he’s the one pushing for a resolution.

And let’s face it, he’s done the resting thing. He hasn’t played since mid-September, he’s rested, he’s had his foot in a protective boot, he’s rested some more, he’s tried to train but felt the pain in his achilles again, rested some more, had another set-back, so it’d easy to understand if he were at the end of his tether with resting.

I know there will be fingers pointed at the Arsenal medical team over this but achilles injuries are notoriously difficult to repair. We know Vermaelen’s scans were clear, they showed no tear or rupture, and harsh as it sounds he might have been better off if he’d torn it. Painful, yes, but quantifiable and at least there’s a definite course of treatment and rehabilitation. His problem has been one of ‘mysterious’ pain, hence the difficulty in treating it.

As well as that surgery is very much a last resort and despite what the specialist said about it being a small tendon running next to the achilles I’m unsure as to whether that’s a definite cause or them just deciding, having exhausted all other possibilites, that this is what it must be. I know for a fact that the initial surgery was going to exploratory, which suggests there was still uncertainty as to the root cause of his problem. I don’t know much about the procedure itself, it sounds a bit more invasive than the keyhole surgery you might get on your knee, for example, so a March comeback sounds rather optimistic.

Whatever happens I hope it’s a success. It’s awful for any player to be out this length of time with an injury but Vermaelen’s situation is made worse by the ongoing confusion and the fact he’s had no definitive timespan put on it. Pull your hamstring, three weeks, calf problem, two weeks, some ligament damage in your knee, couple of months, but to go on month after month and be no closer to a comeback must be torturous. Fingers crossed the surgery goes well and we see him back sooner than we think. As I’ve said a couple of times now I’d be surprised if we saw him again this season but I’d be delighted if that were the case. Good luck, Thomas.

So, where does that leave the team? Harsh as it sounds there’s just no way we can count on Vermaelen for the rest of this campaign and a signing is now absolutely vital. We simply can’t go into the final stretch with just three centre-halves. One injury and one suspension and we’re having to rejig our team to cope. Yes, Alex Song can play there but should Alex Song play there? Absolutely not. The midfield trio of Cesc, Song and Wilshere is too important to disrupt because we don’t have enough defenders. We don’t have another player like Song for midfield and the job he does is crucial when we play well.

It’s no coincidence that our best performances this season have come when he has curbed the attacking side of his game and concentrated on the job he does best. He seems to have developed a good understanding with Jack as well and it allows Cesc to do what he does best. Weakening that part of the team because we haven’t got enough centre-halves would be inexcusable.

The question is – who will he buy? A January stop-gap or a player who might be expensive but one that can fit into our team for the long-haul. I’m very much in favour of the latter option. As GilbertoSilver pointed out on this week’s Arsecast Sebastian Squillaci seems very much like a stop-gap signing. Should we get Vermaelen fit again and make the right buy this month then he is probably the most expendable of the current crop come the summer.

We’ve got the money, no doubt about that, and there’s also little doubt that the centre of our defence could be improved. We’re still in four competitions, there’s a lot of football to be played between now and May, and going through this month without making a purchase would be absolute folly, in my opinion. You can throw around all the names you like – Cahill, Samba, Mertesacker, Upson – but I really haven’t got the first clue who he’ll go after, if he goes after anyone at all. Only Cahill from that group really appeals to me but he might find another Vermaelen.

Ideally it will be somebody with experience of English football which does limit things somewhat but when it comes to transfers you just can’t second guess Arsene Wenger. Who would have predicted the return of Sol Campbell last season? Who could possibly have foreseen him buying Sylvester? We just have to hope his judgement is better this time around. There are exactly two weeks until the transfer window closes. Between now and then we’ve potentially got four games, and one on Feb 1st, with just two centre-halves to choose from.

Playing the two of them in every game increases fatigue which in turn increases the risk of injury which in turn reduces the effectiveness of the team for the reasons outlined above. We need the manager to be decisive, to act quickly and to ensure that we’ve got the depth of squad that can continue to compete in all the competitions we’re in. Over to you, Arsene.

In other news – notice the difference between Gary Speed’s approach as Wales boss and that of England bosses at senior and U21 levels. Speed wants to make sure it’s ok with Arsenal for Aaron Ramsey to play for Wales against Ireland. Stuart Pearce and Fabio Capello have called up Arsenal players against Arsenal’s wishes or used them contrary to common sense. I hope that approach continues from Wales and you have to think a game would do Ramsey some good.

And that’s about that to kick off the week. Back tomorrow when the build up for the cup replay can begin in earnest. Till then.

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