Arsene Wenger still has a chance to reignite Thomas Vermaelen's Arsenal career and stop him joining Manchester United, but a drastic tactical change is required.
The sight of an Arsenal captain moving to Old Trafford is something most Gunners fans thought they would only have to endure once in their lifetime. Such was the controversy drummed up by Robin van Persie's exit, few would have expected the situation to be repeating itself two summers later.
Like it or not, that is the way things seem to be going. Vermaelen has just one year left on his contract and is refusing to sign an extension. Meanwhile Louis van Gaal is offering the Belgium international pride of place in his radical 3-5-2 Manchester United line-up.
Arsenal fans will be less inclined to despair in this case. Of course, Vermaelen's loss won't be felt nearly as hard as Van Persie's was. But all is not lost for Vermaelen in north London. Wenger could still rescue his career by adopting a similar formation to that of his Manchester United rival.
Arsenal's 3-5-2 potential
The Gunners have been sucked into the standard 4-3-3 formation for the majority of their nine-year trophy drought. Having finally broken the curse last season, nothing seems to be changing with regards to tactics.
But Van Gaal is set to throw the cat amongst the pigeons with Manchester United this season, introducing what appears to be one of the first of it's kind at one of the top Premier League clubs. The 3-5-2 formation has already proven successful in pre-season friendlies and Wenger should be taking note, as the Arsenal squad has the potential to adapt to such a formation.
Arsenal have three quality centre-backs in Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen. Koscielny and Vermaelen are both dynamic and comfortable playing out wide with the former right-sided and the latter left-sided.
Kieran Gibbs has already showed a tendency to attack first and defend second and would thrive at wing-back. He was an attacking player in his youth team days and continues to show competency in the attacking third. Mathieu Debuchy also has a fine cross on him and would benefit from the freedom to roam forward.
As shown in Manchester United's game against LA Galaxy, the 3-5-2 formation offers free roles to both the deep lying playmaker and the advanced playmaker. A free role is the very thing that allowed Aaron Ramsey to thrive last year as his late driving runs were untraceable by the opposition. A plethora of goals followed.
For the advanced playmaker, Mesut Ozil, driving runs from both the wing-backs and the two frontmen would give him options to pass to. The lack of players running forward didn't allow the German to use his full range of passing but the formation would finally free him of the restraints of a stable 4-3-3.
Pace & power up front
Up front would prove most problematic for Wenger, who has the choice of pairing pace with power. Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez could form a partnership while Theo Walcott would finally get his chance to play through the middle. Both Joel Campbell and Yaya Sanogo's playing time would be limited with the latter likely to suffer more than the former. But Arsenal need to win titles, not blood more youth products. They can be loaned out or, if necessary, sold.
Is it worth saving Vermaelen?
This all comes back to a single player: Thomas Vermaelen. Is he even worth saving and how much damage can he cause to Arsenal if sold to Manchester United?
Vermaelen may be the club captain but he is certainly not leading the team. After being dropped in March 2013, his position within the squad has grown more untenable by the week. But Arsenal fans can't forget the quality Vermaelen showed before his injury problems began.
There is a reason Wenger made him club captain in 2012 and a reason why Van Gaal wants him in his Manchester United squad. Vermaelen is still a quality player and can be a leader once again if given the chance.
A key role in Arsenal's team would reinvigorate Vermaelen and the changed formation would prove how much Wenger values him. The change in formation could also benefit Arsenal's game.
Of course, it is very much too late for Wenger to start thinking about changing tactics. Arsenal's season starts next week against Manchester City and Wenger has had five pre-season games to experiment. He's set with his 4-3-3 and the squad looks exciting. Unfortunately, it will come at the expense of Vermaelen, who will once again be used as an understudy if can not secure a move to Old Trafford. It's looking very much like he will.
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