Pitchside

Does United-Arsenal defender swap deal make sense?

Pitchside

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Manchester United are in the midst of a summer of minor upheaval, and with their experienced duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic having already opted to move on, there has been plenty of calls for defenders to come in and strengthen the back-line.

Bryan Robson, for instance, insists there is a lack of leaders at the back for United currently after losing the pair and while the likes of Mats Hummels and Stefan de Vrij appear to be high on Man United's list of targets, Thomas Vermaelen seems to be a major object of desire for Louis van Gaal and co.

The Belgian has struggled for first team opportunities as Arsenal following the emergence of the Per Mertesacker/Laurent Koscielny axis in the centre of the defence and has himself signalled a desire to move on, though Arsenal have been burned before by selling to their rivals.

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The Gunners have seen countless players leave the Emirates to join their Premier League rivals in recent seasons, with many having tasted success as a result. Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy all found domestic glory at Manchester City, while Robin van Persie has already won the title since making the move to Old Trafford.

While Vermaelen is not considered as vital part of the Arsenal team as many of those high-profile departures, there is some degree of concern that goes through every Gunner's mind when a domestic transfer rumour emerges regarding title rivals, and one can understand why they want something valuable in return.

Vermaelen is the only cover for Arsenal in the centre of defence currently and Arsene Wenger would be loath to lose him right now, especially to a title rival, so he is planning on asking for a player in return for his Belgian star.

Both Phil Jones and and Chris Smalling have been spoken about as potential makeweights in the deal with Wenger keen to add some British steel to his defensive options and United are thought to be considering the possibility as they may look to bring in an additional top centre-back to compliment Vermaelen.

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And while both men have their pros and cons, it appears Jones excels over his team-mate in the key areas of defending, with the former Blackburn Rovers man winning 1.82 tackles every 90 minutes played for United, with Smalling managing 1.39 successful challenges in the same timescale.

These figures both proved superior to the 1.14 tackles Vermaelen achieved per 90 for Arsenal last season, though the Belgian showed why replacing him could yet be a mistake, as well, especially when they could receive inferior options in return.

Vermaelen's ratio of 3.65 victories in headed duels per 90 was far superior to the United pairing, while 9.25 clearances in that timescale was also much better than either of his potential replacements.

While Smalling may have proved better than Jones in this department, Jones' spell in midfield would distort his numbers.

That spell might be suggestive as to why his interception stats are far greater than either Smalling or Vermaelen, with Jones having made 2.28 interceptions per 90 to display a finer reading of the game.

There is the concern that Vermaelen is actually a better defender than either of the men that Arsenal could demand in exchange for him, with the appeal in the United pairing being their ability to cover at right-back as well, a position Wenger has deemed as a weak point still despite Mathieu Debuchy's arrival.

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Vermaelen's passing stats

Though it appears Vermaelen's desire to leave is forcing the Gunners' hands, Arsenal will be concerned that neither United man actually appears to be a superior replacement for the Belgian. However, Jones appears to be a better option as a centre-back, the position Arsenal need more drastic cover in. His 89 per cent passing accuracy demonstrates a level of precision in ball-playing very much demanded by the North London club.

Whether United would sell a player they have invested so much in (£17m to be precise) is another matter, but Smalling does not appear a viable alternative from his time in United's disastrous campaign last season, leaving Arsenal perhaps needing to revise the idea of a swap. Or ask for Jonny Evans, instead.

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