If Louis van Gaal can, as many sources suggest he might, get his hands on Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen this summer, it would turn Manchester United’s summer into a very profitable one indeed.
The Red Devils have already partly addressed their midfield deficiencies through the capture of long-term target Ander Herrera, and secured the future of their defensive left-flank by landing Luke Shaw. With Van Gaal now moving to fill in the cracks that remain there is but one position that is truly in dire need of a new face.
Van Gaal's need for defensive solidity
For the exits of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have significantly weakened the club, and left United devoid of any real presence in their back line. A departure for either man was always going to be detrimental, the loss of both at the same time should be seen as nothing short of a catastrophe.
Yet in the wake of Vidic moving to Inter Milan and Ferdinand reuniting himself with Harry Redknapp at QPR there remains hope, solidified in no small part by Van Gaal’s reputation as a world-class coach. Up until the Dutchman’s arrival the idea of Vermaelen ditching north London in favour of their most famous Premier League title rivals wouldn’t have just been treated with scepticism, it would been outright laughed at.
Return yourself to the present though and the notion is one that many are treating as a foregone conclusion. Vermaelen’s lack of game-time, despite the fact he remains perhaps Wenger’s most senior Arsenal player, has given him cause enough to become disillusioned with life at the Emirates Stadium, and the promise of first-team opportunities at United is believed to have been enough to catch his eye.
What’s more, today’s reports from the papers claim that Wenger has now resigned himself to allowing his skipper to leave, so long as he can get his hands on a replacement in the very same deal. Both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are said to rank high on the Frenchman’s list of candidates fit to take up Vermaelen’s role as back-up centre-half/ makeshift right and left back next season, despite the fact that neither spring to mind immediately when one wonders which names Van Gaal is looking to shift from his inherited squad.
Smalling's credentials at United
That being said there is a disparity between Jones and Smalling which grows with each passing year and can be summed up with but one sentence; Jones has a long-term United future, Smalling does not. The former Fulham man drew comparisons to Rio Ferdinand early on in his career with the Red Devils, but he’s offered little in terms of evidence as to why since, and has never managed to establish himself as a consistent starter.
In Van Gaal’s new-look squad, which will no doubt have its foundations firmly planted in the world of tactics, Smalling could quickly become surplus to requirements. Though he can act as back-up to Rafael in the right-back berth he remains at the most on par with Jones and Jonny Evans with regards to the central areas of the back four, and that’s before any new arrivals have made their claim for a starting spot.
Yet in Wenger’s Arsenal he could be afforded the chance to develop, and in time Per Mertesacker’s age will surely open a space up in the heart of the defence.
Vermaelen vs Smalling
Pushing Smalling’s future aside, Van Gaal must see that a swap deal would greatly benefit his side. Vermaelen, with his years of experience with the Gunners and the Belgian national side, has it in him to comfortably conduct proceedings at the back, and would give United a natural leader to look to when under the cosh. Though not cut from quite the same cloth as Vidic he’s an extremely intelligent player and, crucially, has the sort of star quality needed to thrive at a club vying for major honours, Smalling does not.
Upon Van Gaal’s arrival fans of United heralded the capture of a tactical genius, an organisational mastermind and a man who plans everything down to the finest detail. Even he must realise though that when everything is said and done, swapping Smalling for Vermaelen would simply be a dream come true?