Wenger's leap of faith pays off as Vermaelen walks tall

Arsenal 4 Wigan Athletic 0
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The Independent Football

Scrapping with a rival player in a pre-season friendly is not the usual way to endear yourself to the opposition manager, but it did the trick for Thomas Vermaelen.

The Belgian centre-half, then with Ajax, squared up to Robin van Persie two summers ago in a game in which he appeared to have running battles with half the Arsenal side.

The team may not have liked him, but that was the moment manager Arsène Wenger became convinced Vermaelen could be a future Arsenal player. Wenger had been impressed with Vermaelen's handling of Van Persie, and Thierry Henry the season before, but it was his flash of temper with the former that clinched it.

"I loved that. We watched him from that moment on," Wenger said. "He played a lot at left-back last season, a lot of people watched him and yet we knew what he could do at centre-back.

"I liked him when he played against us, because he kept Thierry Henry quiet and again he did the same with Van Persie. I remembered the name, put the name in my brain and kept it in there. He's now 24, when that happened he was 21 and maybe he wanted to show he was committed. We've not had someone of his type before."

Vermaelen's impact at Arsenal has been remarkable. In just eight games since moving from Ajax for £10m in June, he has made his mark with some uncompromising defending, while at the same time he has scored more goals than anyone else at the club.

At 6ft tall in his socks, Vermaelen is shorter than the average centre-half, but the way he rose above Titus Bramble to score from Van Persie's corner against Wigan on Saturday showed his lack of inches is not a problem.

Wenger said: "You can question his height, but not his leap. His leap makes up for his height. He's taller than you expect him to be, he's not small and has a very strong upper body. His leap is very sharp, he jumps very quickly and that is very important on headers because if you analyse two players, the one who jumps quicker heads the ball first." Vermaelen scored his second with a well-placed shot from 18 yards, after an exchange of passes with Emmanuel Eboué.

Wenger said: "The second goal was not him closing his eyes and hoping it went in the top corner. He decided before what he wanted to do and he executed it very well."

Van Persie is thankful he only has to play against Vermaelen in training now. The Arsenal striker said of their 2007 clash: "He played very strong on me physically and I was a little bit upset about it. So I told him in nice words. Now I'm happy he's on my side."

Eboué scored Arsenal's third, a deflection off a shot by Eduardo after the Croat had hit the post. Against Wigan last season Eboué was booed by his own fans, and he was clearly keyed up. The Wigan supporters had been baiting Eboué over an earlier incident when he tried to score with his hand and was booked. But that cannot excuse his inflammatory goal celebration in which he ran to the Wigan fans and slid on his knees as Emmanuel Adebayor had done a week earlier at Manchester City.

In the 90th minute Nicklas Bendtner crossed low for Cesc Fabregas to score Arsenal's fourth. This convincing victory stabilised Arsenal's season, after successive defeats to both Manchester clubs. "Winning was the only thing that mattered," Van Persie said. "I wasn't so pleased with my performance. I missed too many chances and that is something I have to work on. But I'm confident it will be OK soon."

Arsenal (4-1-4-1): Mannone; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song; Eboué (Rosicky, 67), Fabregas, Diaby (Ramsey, 67), Eduardo (Bendtner, 73); Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Silvestre, Wilshere, Gibbs,

Wigan Athletic (4-4-1-1): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; N'Zogbia, Thomas, Diame, Koumas (Scharner, 57); Gomez (Scotland, 57); Rodallega (Sinclair, 87). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Edman, Cho, King.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: Arsenal Eboué, Song; Wigan Athletic Gomez, Scharner.

Man of the match: Vermaelen.

Attendance: 59,103.

How Adebayor finally fell out with Van Persie

Emmanuel Adebayor annoyed his former Arsenal team-mates by taking their football boots after the last game at the end of the 2008-09 season. The Togo striker took a bin bag into the Gunners dressing room and filled it with kit belonging to the likes of Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas. An Arsenal official said: "Adebayor took all the boots without permission. He swept the dressing room." The Manchester City striker's agent said that the player may have taken the kit to give to people in his home country. "At the end of the season it is usual for players to take the materials they will not be using any more," said Stéphane Courbis. "A lot of African players take kit back to their country because the facilities and conditions there are not the same as in England."

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