Another instalment, another two players poached by Barcelona. Over the years the Catalan club have courted many Arsenal players, which is perhaps understandable given the two sides similar passing styles. The reasoning behind their overtures hasn’t helped ease Gooners frustration when it comes to losing stars to the La Liga giants, and the lure of playing for one of the greatest teams in history has been too great to turn down for several.
Alex Song was on the books at Arsenal for six years, having originally joined from Bastia on a season-long loan in 2005 before a £1m transfer fee was agreed following the completion of the loan in 2006.
The Cameroon international only made a handful of appearances during his first couple of seasons – mainly in cup competitions – and had a short-term loan spell at Charlton, where he impressed.
At the beginning of the 2008/09 season, Song established himself as a regular starter and became a valued member of the team, combining solid defensive displays with effective passing and distribution which registered him assists on a regular basis.
Barcelona made their move in the summer of 2012, bidding £15m for the midfielder’s services. Sources close to Song claim he had repeatedly made it clear to Arsenal that he wanted to sign a new contract, even when he had known of Barca’s interest, but the Gunners hierarchy kept delaying the talks as his contract had several years remaining. There were also rumours circulating that Song was often late to train and had an unprofessional attitude, which the player himself rebuffed.
Song would put pen to paper on a five-year deal for the La Liga outfit, making 39 league appearances in his first two seasons, registering a single goal.
When Luis Enrique took the head coach role in 2014, Song was deemed surplus to requirements, and spent the next season on loan to West Ham, where he found more regular playing time. Despite a sound start to life in East London, Song’s form gradually deteriorated along with his minutes on the pitch, and the Hammers didn’t sign him permanently.
Song met with Barcelona representatives over the summer of 2016, where the decision was reached to terminate his contract. The Cameroonian proceeded to join Rubin Kazan in Russia on a free transfer and played 21 league games last season.
Song has never recaptured the form he displayed in his last few years at Arsenal, and at the age of 29 finds himself in the Russian league – a player of his calibre should still be at a top club in one of Europe’s major leagues at a time where he should be at the peak of his career.
Vermaelen joined Arsenal in a deal worth around £7m from Ajax in 2009. He would become a fan favourite during his time with Arsenal due to his combative nature and his readiness to put his body on the line for the team, as well as possessing a knack for goal-scoring. He was susceptible to making marauding runs forward however, which often made Arsenal very vulnerable to counterattacks due to his lack of positional discipline.
This, combined with the fact that the Belgian was plagued with injuries towards the end of his spell with the club, meant that there was a large section of the Gunners faithful who felt maybe the time was right for him to move on when Barca came knocking. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is not always a great trait for a defensive-minded player.
Barcelona made a bid of £15m in the summer of 2014, which Arsenal duly accepted. Injuries prevented Vermaelen from making his debut until the very end of his first season, in the final La Liga game against Deportivo. In the second game of the following campaign against Malaga he netted his first goal in Spain, before going on to make a late substitute appearance in the Club World Cup final win against River Plate in Japan.
After only managing 11 league appearances after two years, Vermaelen was shipped out to Roma on a year-long loan with an option to buy. After only playing nine times in Serie A the option wasn’t exercised, and he returned to Catalonia this summer, where he currently remains.
It’s a great shame that injuries have prevented Vermaelen showing what he can do at Barcelona – most Gooners only wished him well upon his departure after five years of loyal service. The 31-year-old has two years remaining on his contract and so hopefully there is still time.