Vermaelen to make welcome return

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Thomas Vermaelen admits it has been "horrible" sitting on the sidelines as Arsenal struggled defensively but he maintains the back four should not shoulder all the blame for the goals which have flowed past the Gunners to end trophy challenges on all fronts.

The Belgian centre-half, 25, is in line for a first-team return against Aston Villa after eight months out with a niggling Achilles problem sustained on international duty, which eventually required surgery.

"It has been a long period, which has been a horrible time, but it is finished now and I am happy to get back on the pitch," Vermaelen told Arsenal TV Online.

"I always thought I would be fit in a few weeks, and then had setbacks. However, I am cured now and it is absolutely fine."

Vermaelen impressed in his debut Barclays Premier League campaign after a £10million move from Ajax during June 2009 and, in his absence, Arsenal's defence rarely looked as stable.

Manager Arsene Wenger feels if Vermaelen, an unused substitute in last weekend's defeat at Stoke, had been fit all season, some of the soft goals they conceded would not have transpired.

The Belgian, though, firmly believes keeping a clean sheet must always be collective responsibility.

He said: "The other guys have done quite well, but there is always talk about the back four of Arsenal. Of course you have to defend well and have your individual qualities, but defending is always teamwork as well.

"You have to look at every goal we concede and say, 'How did it come?'. It is not always a mistake just of the defenders, more or less it is from a few players.

"There have been too many games where we were not good enough."

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Stoke City
Thomas Vermaelen
Premier League
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