Despite valiant defeat against Bayern Munich, currently the best team on the planet, and indifferent league form (just eight points from the last six matches), Arsenal have surprised pretty much everyone this season. Aaron Ramsey's prolific early season form, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny's defensive partnership, Mesut Özil's sprinkling of gold dust (despite the tabloid hatchet jobs) and the ever-emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all been obvious factors in the Gunners' form, but one man has remained focused on the job at hand, despite playing a muted part on the pitch: club captain, Thomas Vermaelen.
No whinging, no agent flyers in the press (extremely surprising given that an associate of his is Darren Dein, the agent that helped orchestrate moves away from Arsenal for Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Alex Song), and no recent late night parties with model and TV-presenter girlfriend Polly Parsons. Throughout a difficult season, he has been the consummate professional.
The Belgian has had to sit out the majority of the season due to the inspired form of Mertesacker and Koscielny. This is unchartered territory for Vermaelen, who shot to Premier League stardom when joining Arsenal from Ajax in 2009, quickly becoming one of Europe's most competent and tough tackling defenders. Thunderous sliding challenges, remarkable spring in the air and a cultured left foot, with an eye for goal, Vermalen quick became a fans' favourite. His stock has since dropped.
Injuries have taken their toll - Vermaelen has had well documented Achilles tendon issues - but Arsenal's skipper felt the full effect of Arsene Wenger's axe following last seasons' defeat at White Hart Lane. From there, the Mertesacker-Koscielny double-act took shape, ironically starting in Munich, and has strengthened with each game and is now arguably the best pairing in the country.
When Vermaelen has featured in the team, as he has done recently in the FA Cup quarter final win over Everton and last night at the Allianz Arena, he hasn't let anybody down, although that once-famous leap that won so many headers (despite his adequate height of 6ft, way shorter than most of the world's finest centre backs) is now less evident. As is his composure on the ball, often losing possession playing long diagonals that you rarely see from Mertesacker or Koscielny, although that is possibly due to ring-rust and not having a settled run in the team.
Vermaelen has started just three league matches this season and has had to rely on cup appearances, unless plugging a gap due to injury or suspension to the first choice centre backs or left backs. He has made just eight starts in all competitions and five substitute appearances. If (big if) Arsenal win the Premier League, Vermaelen will struggle to win a medal, with only seven league appearances to his name! He has performed diligently when called upon but such is the form of the Mertesacker-Koscielny duo, Arsenal's captain has had to watch on from the Recaro seats.
Support of the manager and team has been admirable, especially in his programme notes - Vermaelen is a valuable asset in the dressing room and at London Colney, especially with the young pros, despite his on-pitch inactivity. A stark contrast from a sticky period last season when Arsène Wenger was not happy about Vermaelen's late nights.
With Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs fit for Sunday's north London derby, Vermaelen will again drop to the bench. What happens in the future remains to be seen; at 28, Vermaelen will certainly not want to be a bit-part player as he enters the prime years of his career, and all evidence points to a summer departure. For the remainder of the season at least, Arsenal's captain has a huge part to play - as he has done already. Despite his fall from grace as one of Europe's finest, don't overlook his contribution this season.