Is it time for Thomas Vermaelen to move on from Arsenal?

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Things are going so well for Arsenal right now.

Top of the Barclays Premier League table. Top of Group F in the Champions League Group Stage.

Aaron Ramsey is on fire. Mesut Ozil is on the books. Olivier Giroud is looking like he may score 20+ goals. Heck, Arsene Wenger even looks a bit – dare I say it? – relaxed.

Yet amongst this joy sits a rather perplexing situation, that of Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen, who has hinted that he may seek a move away from the Emirates Stadium if first-team opportunities remain hard to come by.

Speaking on ahead of Belgium’s clash with Wales on Tuesday, Vermaelen told the Daily Mail he may leave Arsenal. “I’ll have to think about that when it’s necessary. January is still a few months ahead. Of course, never playing will not be the ideal situation for me to go to the World Cup, that’s for sure.”

For now, he’s playing it cool. “People ask me if I panic because I’m not playing a lot but I’m not. I have spoken to the manager but it will remain private between us. Things can happen in a split second and change my situation. That can happen tomorrow or next weekend. . . . In that case, we will speak differently in January. I have to be ready for that.”

Vermaelen’s words won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s paid attention to his career of late.

Arriving in North London in 2009, Vermaelen needed little time to settle in scoring an incredible seven league goals in 33 matches while leading the Gunners to a third place finish. After an achilles injury shortened his sophomore season, the center-back returned in 2011-12 to impress once again, scoring six goals in 29 matches to help Arsenal finish third.

When Robin van Persie bounced to Old Trafford in the summer of 2012, Arsene Wenger handed Vermaelen the captain’s armband. It was deserved and expected. What wasn’t expected was the turn in form that Vermaelen’s play would take, consistently putting in dreadful appearances, most notably against Liverpool and Manchester City.

His trademark runs up the pitch no longer proved effective, and worse, left Arsenal exposed in the back. His ineffectiveness was (in part) due to continued achilles trouble but moreso to poor decision making.

One almost felt like Vermaelen’s overzealous play was a reaction to the armband, as if he felt the need to do more to prove himself. Unfortunately, his poor performances left Wenger with no decision but to bench the Belgian. It had to be done and it proved the right decision as Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny formed a formidable defensive partnership that conceded the second fewest league goals in 2012-13.

This season Koscielny and Mertesacker have continued their outstanding form, leaving Vermaelen with only 10 minutes of Premier League time to his name. With the World Cup fast approaching and stiff competition in Belgium’s starting lineup – Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Daniel van Buyten – Vermaelen needs to prove himself, and fast.

But where will the opportunities come from? Even when Mertesacker was absent against Sunderland Wenger chose to start Bacary Sagna as a center-back and Carl Jenkinson as a right-back instead of utilizing Vermaelen.

So will Arsenal sell the Belgian this January?

Do so and they’ll need to find cover. As a team with a notable injury history and long-shot hopes of making a Premier League title run (while also competing in the Champions League), Arsenal require depth. But Wenger is a conservative business man and a slow mover when it comes to the transfer market. Expecting him to take a loss on Vermaelen and also find a player he believes in enough to purchase could be asking a lot.

Failing to sell Vermaelen, however, could be a big mistake. As Wenger is well aware, having your captain buried on your bench does a club no favors. Plus, the last thing the Frenchman will want is a disgruntled player who could potentially disturb an otherwise promising season.

Decisions will need to be made.

“Emotional” Mertesacker: Send Wenger off “with a cup”

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Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker has made 220 appearances for the club, all with one man in charge of the Gunners: Arsene Wenger.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Mertesacker has won three FA Cups with Wenger, and he took up his pen — or laptop — for Sunday’s Matchday program.

The 33-year-old German says it’s down to Arsenal’s players to send off Wenger right: With two more successful rounds in the UEFA Europa League against Atletico Madrid and either Red Bull Salzburg or Marseille. From the BBC:

“We were only informed on Friday about the manager’s decision to step down at the end of the season, so it’s still quite emotional,” Mertesacker said.

“He’s been the major figure of this club for more than 20 years. He’s been so impressive for me and he has trusted me so much throughout my career, in bringing me here and making me captain even when I was injured. He also gave me a future role here at the club so I am very grateful and humbled for the opportunity he gave to me.

“There’s now an emphasis on us doing it for him too. We want to give him the send-off he deserves: with a cup.”

The French legend to end his time at Arsenal against Marseille would be delightful, don’t you think?

Watch Live: Arsenal-West Ham, Stoke-Burnley

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The Premier League has a pair of 8:30 a.m. ET Sunday kickoffs for us this morning, including one of Arsene Wenger‘s final matches at Arsenal.

There’s a London Derby between Arsenal and West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners look to stay fresh for Atletico Madrid and the Hammers aim to firm up their Premier League status for next season (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette. Subs: Macey, Mertesacker, Holding, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson. Aubameyang.

West Ham United: Hart, Zabaleta, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Masuaku, Kouyate, Noble, Fernandes, Mario, Arnautovic. Subs: Adrian, Cullen, Evra, Lanzini, Hugill, Carroll, Chicharito.


Stoke City’s climb out of the relegation zone will have to overcome Burnley’s desires for a Top Six place, as the Clarets can pass sixth place Arsenal with a win and a Gunners loss to West Ham (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Stoke City: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, M.Indi, Pieters; Bauer, Allen, Badou, Shaqiri; Crouch, Diouf. Subs: Haugaard, Zouma, Ireland, Cameron, Fletcher, Ramadan, Campbell.

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Long, Tarkowski, Ward, Lennon, Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson, Wood, Barnes. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Marney, Vokes, Hendrick, Walters, Bardsley.

Ligue 1: Depay’s goal streak hits 5 games; Lyon reeling in Monaco

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MONACO (AP) Lyon won at Dijon 5-2 and moved within one point of second-place Monaco in the French league on Friday.

Lyon’s sixth straight league win kept them level on points with fourth-place Marseille.

The team finishing second qualifies automatically for next season’s Champions League, while the team in third goes into the playoffs. After this weekend, there will be four rounds remaining.

Memphis Depay has scored or created 12 of Lyon’s 16 last goals.

The Netherlands forward opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a close-range volley, and set up the fourth goal for winger Bertrand Traore in the 77th.

Depay almost scored another, just failing to reach right back Rafael‘s cross in the 50th. Midfielder Houssem Aouar followed up and his strike was turned into his own net by defender Valentin Rosier.

Lyon’s other goals came from forwards Nabil Fekir in the 53rd and Maxwell Cornet in the 82nd.


MONACO (AP) — After losing the French title last weekend, Monaco is in danger of throwing away second place after losing at Guingamp 3-1 on Saturday.

The defeat leaves Monaco just one point ahead of Lyon and Marseille as the three sides chase an automatic place in the Champions League with four games left.

Monaco was thrashed by champion Paris Saint-Germain 7-1 last Sunday and the defense leaked easily again, albeit with a little help from one of its defenders.

A makeshift Monaco fell behind midway through the first half after Brazilian defender Jemerson was given a red card for stopping a shot on the line. He was sent off and veteran forward Jimmy Briand netted from the penalty spot for mid-table Guingamp.

Monaco capitulated and trailed 3-0 after 47 minutes. Defender Almamy Toure replied in vain with a consolation goal midway through the second half.


Marseille crushed Lille 5-1 to join Lyon on 69 points. Lyon, which won at Dijon 5-2 on Friday for a sixth straight win, has a better goal difference.

Marseille also has the Europa League and plays the first leg of its semifinal at home to Austrian side Salzburg next Thursday. But Lyon has only Ligue 1 to think about.

Still, Marseille is also brimming with confidence these days, especially winger Florian Thauvin.

He scored twice against Lille to extend his career-best league tally to 19. Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou also netted twice, and forward Lucas Ocampos completed the rout against 19th-place Lille.

In other matches: Amiens won against Strasbourg 3-1; struggling Toulouse beat Angers 2-0, and last-place Metz drew at home to Caen 1-1.

PSG is at Bordeaux on Sunday. Also, Nice is at home to Montpellier, and Saint-Etienne takes on Troyes.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.