Former Manchester United star Phil Neville has said he would never have taken former Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen instead of Chris Smalling in the Old Trafford defence, despite the youngster’s stuttering form.
Speaking on BBC Radio Five Live’s Monday night football show, Neville insisted it was a good thing that Louis van Gaal rejected a reported offer from the Gunners to swap Smalling with Vermaelen in the summer.
Manchester United’s new manager was criticised to failing to adequately recruit for his defence during the summer window, after only Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw were purchased.
Two signings would have been adequate if the Red Devils had not allowed a vast amount of experience to leave this summer with the departures of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.
Knowhow shortage obvious
This shortage of experience and depth of quality has been evident in Van Gaal’s first six competitive games in charge at Old Trafford, where they have won just once and lost three times.
Last weekend was the nadir, however, as they threw away a 3-1 lead away at Leicester City and ended up losing 5-3 after a calamitous last half hour, in which the defending was as bad as it has been by a Manchester United team for a very long time.
Smalling was one of the culprits in the game at the King Power Stadium, though a poor performance by him is no rare occurrence and he has failed to really build on the huge promise he showed when breaking into the Fulham team under Roy Hodgson in 2008.
However, Neville was adamant that the England international would come good eventually and that he would not have considered swapping him for Vermaelen at all – he also stated his belief in Phil Jones, who has struggled similarly since moving to Old Trafford from Blackburn Rovers as an exciting prospect.
“I wouldn’t swap Chris Smalling for Thomas Vermaelen,” said the former Everton man.
“You’re talking about Arsenal’s third choice centre-back who couldn’t get in a side which were leaking goals in the big games, and you’ve got England’s best young centre-back – along with Phil Jones – and you don’t get rid of your English spine.
“I am certain he’ll come good and I have full faith in Phil Jones as well.”
Transfer on the cards
Arsenal had long decided to let Vermaelen leave Emirates Stadium and it was little surprise when reports emerged claiming he would be sold, as he was only third-choice centre-back behind Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
After Manchester United rejected the swap deal on offer, the Belgium international eventually made that familiar trip from Emirates Stadium to Camp Nou and Barcelona paid £15million for the privilege.
Arsenal have been criticised similarly to United after they also failed to replace outgoing defenders adequately, such Vermaelen, Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel.
Arsene Wenger bought Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle United to replace right-back Bacary Sagna and youngster Calum Chambers was purchased from Southampton as further cover.
Debuchy is now out for three months after having surgery on ankle ligament damage and Nacho Monreal is set to miss the next four matches with a back problem.
The Spaniard was cover for left-back and centre-back, while Chambers was bought to initially cover at right-back but his early season performances have made him a de facto third choice centre-back.
Now Arsenal have only four fit senior defenders and one more injury in that department could prove disastrous.