The partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny has made life difficult for Thomas Vermaelen at Arsenal this season, with the Belgian international finding playing time hard to come by.

Vermaelen only has seven appearances to his name in matches across the Champions League and Premier League this season, sidelined despite being club captain at the Emirates.

With his continued absence from the first team line up, rumours regarding his departure have begun to gather pace.

Fellow Belgian Dries Mertens is even actively trying to pull Vermaelen to Napoli, or so he told Belgian magazine Knack :

Mertens said: "I have already told Vermaelen to come to Napoli 10 times. The city is magnificent and even Benitez asked me to convince Vermaelen to come here. But Arsenal is a great club and it won't be so easy for him to leave. "

Back in November, Vermaelen quashed any speculation about his future at the Emirates.

Of course, it wouldn't be the first time a player left immediately after pledging his allegiance to his club. With the World Cup approaching, the Belgian defender might look out for pastures new if his place in the World Cup squad comes under question.

In addition, Arsenal may feel that his diminished role means the club could cope without him, but they can't afford to be selling centre-backs.

With Koscielny out injured, the Gunners would be much better off holding onto the Belgian defender at least until next summer.

If anything, they should be buying new central defenders in January rather than offloading. They do have quality defenders in their ranks but only three players who can play at the highest level in a central position.

Bacary Sagna might have played at centre-back for parts of this season, but his natural position is without doubt right-back.

For a team pushing for the title and competing in the Champions League, two good centre-backs would be nowhere near enough. Even if Arsenal sell the Belgian, their wouldn't be any guarantee that Arsenal would get a solid replacement in a notoriously difficult January transfer market.

It means that should Mertesacker or Koscielny, who is already down with injury, spend time on the sidelines Arsenal would be in serious trouble.

Sagna would have to play in the centre, and Carl Jenkinson would be playing right-back, which is far from convincing.

Vermaelen might be in poor form right now, but he was a beast of a player a year ago and if Arsenal sell him they would lose one of their prized assets.

Vermaelen is 28 years old, which means he's got another three or four years of solid football left before he really starts declining.

Vermaelen is by no means an optimal option for Arsenal at centre-back, but he's at least somebody who can reduce the immense pressure on Koscielny and Mertesacker.

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