Gunners defender Vermaelen targets Barca return
Published 22:30 16/01/11 By John Cross
Thomas Vermaelen will undergo surgery tomorrow and has set himself a goal of being fit to face Barcelona in the Champions League.
Vermaelen’s season has been wrecked by a mystery Achilles injury and he has not played for Arsenal since the end of August.
But Vermaelen spoke about his injury nightmare for the first time yesterday and revealed he is confident that the problem has finally been solved.
Belgian defender Vermaelen, who will undergo surgery in Sweden, has set his sights on facing Barcelona on February 16 even though he admits it will be a race against time.
Vermaelen said: “My goal is to be fit against Barcelona but I know that after being out for so long that it may not be realistic.
“Having been out for so long, I don’t like to give dates when I will be ready to play again. But you have to set yourself targets and goals.
“But the biggest thing is that I’m relieved that they have found the problem. That is the most important thing and now I can be positive about coming back into the team.”
Arsenal believe that Vermaelen aggravated an Achilles problem while playing for Belgium against Turkey in a Euro 2012 qualifier on September 7.
Vermaelen now believes that he has suffered two different injuries during his four-month lay-off and the problem which has caused him to break down recently is a tendon next to his Achilles.
The operation in Sweden - a clinic has been recommended by specialists in Amsterdam - will cut away the tendon and that is believed to be causing the pain.
Vermaelen said: “I felt the injury during the second half of the Turkey game but the pain was not killing me and I carried on. I didn’t know it was so serious. But soon I began to feel the pain really badly even when I was walking.
“I have tried to stay as close as possible to the other players because it’s important to stay positive.
“But I’ve had so many setbacks. I was about to train again with the group then when I’ve gone to train I’ve had a setback and to suffer that is a huge mental blow.
“In the beginning I thought it would be a few days but I was not prepared for such a long period without football.
“All the guys - Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, everyone - gave me great support. I’ve spoken to the manager many times. We’ve spoken about a new centre half coming in but that’s up to him and the club if they buy someone.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is still considering whether to buy in January and bring in a new centre half to cover for Vermaelen and Sebastien Squillaci who has a hamstring injury.
Wenger has already insisted he is more likely to go for a stop-gap now and then look again for a longer term target - with Bolton’s Gary Cahill at the top of his list - in the summer.
But Vermaelen is prepared for the new challenge and insists he is still determined to save his season and help Arsenal win some silverware.
Vermaelen, talking at a press conference in Belgium where he is an ambassador for a leprosy charity, added: “The only thing that can save my season is either to win the title or to play in a victory in the Champions League final.
“Of course it will be very difficult to beat Barcelona because we have not forgotten the game last year, especially in the Nou Camp when Lionel Messi was incredible. But we have learnt from that experience and we will use those lessons.”