David Showell

As new arrivals go, Thomas Vermaelen has been a dramatic success since joining Arsenal. Signed from Ajax in the summer, the centre-back has looked so at home he could be forgiven for wearing slippers and pyjamas.

The Belgian crossed the border to Holland while still a junior, and was a big success at the Amsterdam ArenA. Known for being a tough-tackling, no-nonsense defender, Vermaelen has shown Gooners he has a lot more to his game than that. Four goals in his first nine games, his strikes include a sweet left-foot curler against Wigan; an un-centre back finish that looked more Messi than Materazzi.

A couple of years ago, Vermaelen almost came to blows with Robin van Persie at the pre-season Amsterdam Tournament. It must have been interesting when he first joined up with the Arsenal squad. However, by all accounts the two tearaways get on perfectly well now.

When Ajax opted to sell Vermaelen, there was at least one extremely angry dissenting voice. Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Martin Jol took over as coach at Ajax in May, and was preparing his strategy and squad for a new season when he was told he was losing his skipper to, of all teams, Arsenal.

The Dutch club had decided Arsenal’s offer was too good to turn down, but Jol was said to be furious. He’d planned to build his defence around the combative and inspirational leader. Vermaelen, equally at home at in the centre or at left-back, was a major loss to Jol before the season had even begun.

The Belgian defender hadn’t been an instant success at Ajax. Under former manager Ronald Koeman, Vermaelen had been loaned out to RKC Waalwijk because he was unlikely to feature much for the Amsterdam club. Even at Waalwijk he only played 13 matches in a season.

Danny Blind, Koeman’s successor at Ajax, brought him back from Waalwijk amid promises of a chance to make a first-team place his own. From then on, Vermaelen hasn’t looked back. He became a central figure at the Amsterdam ArenA, a tough enforcer, a skilled ball-player and a natural leader. He helped the club win two KNVB Cups and two Johann Cruijff Shields.

A move to the Premier League had been rumoured for some time when Arsenal came calling. The deal to take Vermaelen to the Emirates took several weeks, but once the T’s were crossed and the I’s were dotted, he settled in with remarkable speed.

A dream debut against Everton must have had the Belgian wondering what all the fuss was about. A 6-1 hammering at Goodison Park, on paper one of the toughest tests of the season, included a solid performance and a goal for good measure. Any thoughts Vermaelen must have been harbouring about the difficulty of adapting to the English game will certainly have eased at least a little.

Arsenal went on to lose twice in Manchester, but even then the Belgian played well and didn’t do an awful lot wrong. One of the most gratifying things for Arsene Wenger will be how quickly Vermaelen and William Gallas have reached an understanding at the back. The Frenchman is not known for his easy-going nature, and last season had a very public falling-out with Kolo Toure. So far at least, the pair seem to be getting along well, and seem to know what to expect from each other. It will be interesting to see if their simpatico, and form, can continue at such a high level.

The man dubbed The Verminator by Arsenal fans received a compliment from his former combatant Robin van Persie recently. The Dutchman simply stated he was glad he played with him now rather than against him, and with the Belgian’s performances at the start of the season being good enough to win him the Arsenal Player of the Month Award it’s easy to appreciate van Persie’s view. The award was tribute to a series of excellent performances produced straight away at a new club and in a new environment.

Following in the footsteps of greats such as Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould and Kolo Toure, Thomas Vermaelen may prove to be yet another towering fortress of defence for the Gunners. And who knows, maybe it won’t be long before he has a snazzy arm-band to go with his red and white shirt.

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