Arsene Wenger confirmed on Friday that Thomas Vermaelen could leave the club this summer, with his destination likely to be Manchester United.
When the Arsenal manager goes as far to admit that a departure is likely, it is time to put your money on it happening. It appears inevitable that Vermaelen will quit the club this year, but the longer it takes to happen, the more damaging it could be to Arsenal's Premier League prospects.
Signing a replacement
One thing that is certain is if Vermaelen does leave – we have already established that he will; no doubt about it – then a defender of a similar level will need to be brought in. Wenger will obviously realise this. What will concern him though is just how few experienced defenders appear to be available on the market.
The tabloids usually hold no bars with regards to linking Arsenal to top players, but when it comes to potential Vermaelen replacements, the picture is looking remarkably bleak. Only Alvaro Arbeloa has been credited with inspiring interest from Arsenal, but no one will be inspired by such a signing, even if it is designed to fill the third-choice centre-back spot.
Some have suggested Arsenal would seek a swap deal with Manchester United with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling potentially moving the other way. The former is seemingly held in high regard at Old Trafford and appears set on fulfilling his potential there whereas the latter is looking increasingly questionable.
Any suggestion that Louis van Gaal would allow such a deal is ludicrous. The Dutchman is no fool and he will not be that desperate to seal Vermaelen, who himself represents a significant risk for Manchester United.
Delaying the inevitable
As Vermaelen has just one-year left on his contract and is clearly dissatisfied with his understudy role at the Emirates Stadium, keeping him in north London would not only be delaying the inevitable and cost Arsenal a fee of around £10 million, but it would also damage the Arsenal squad.
Vermaelen would have to lose the captaincy if he remained at Arsenal and his continued presence would damage the close-knit feel Wenger is trying to install amongst his latest crop of stars.
Even if it means sacrificing a couple of million by agreeing a deal quickly, it needs to be done soon not only so Arsenal can move on, but so they can get a replacement signed and installed.
Hard work undone
It is clear Wenger has been on somewhat of a mission in the transfer market this summer. Four signings in the form of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina and Calum Chambers is impressive considering there is still one month to go. However, all that hard work can be undone if Arsenal start the season with just two recognised centre-backs.
Chambers can play at centre-back but Wenger will know his prominent role will be to provide support for Debuchy. Relying on Chambers to be anything more than a fourth-choice centre-back will be reckless from a man trying to win his first Premier League title in over a decade.
If Wenger decides to drag out the deal for Vermaelen it will harm their chances of bagging an adequate replacement. As the transfer window draws to a close, clubs will become more reluctant to sell established stars and transfer fees will go up.
Although the acquisition of Mesut Ozil was nothing short of sensational in terms of Wenger's transfer policy, the fact that it was completed on transfer deadline day obviously hampered the German. Arsenal can't afford for the same thing to happen if Vermaelen leaves close to the deadline.
No doubt Wenger will have targets in mind, but agreeing a deal with both the player and his club could take weeks. The squad must be set before the season kicks off if Arsenal are to challenge. If Vermaelen is still there by August 15 only to leave in the closing days of the window it could demean the entire summer for Wenger and potential ruin what could have been a special season.