Stats - Smalling comparison with Vermaelen gives surprising results

Would Chris Smalling be a decent replacement in exchange for Arsenal's Belgian international Thomas Vermaelen?

This week saw Thomas Vermaelen strongly linked to Louis van Gaal's Manchester United revolution, with the Belgian struggling to claim regular first team football at the Emirates last year.

Despite being the club captain, he has been unable to break up last season's outstanding defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny,

United are on the lookout for experienced top class defenders to replace Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, and a move for the former Ajax man is supposed to be close.

One of the things the two clubs are rumoured to be debating is whether a player will head to Arsenal from United as part of the deal, with defender Chris Smalling mentioned as somebody to step straight into Vermaelen's position as first choice reserve for the team, while also offering himself as an option at right back.

Below we look at the two player's statistics from last season, in an effort to break down who will be getting the better deal:

Accuracy %
Last Man TackleHeader Duel Won %Mistakes Led To Shot/Goalmins / Duel WonPassing Accuracy %mins / Effective ClearanceAppsMins
Thomas Vermaelen Arsenal 71.43 1 62.26 0/0 14.22 90.26 10.03 14 782
Chris Smalling Man Utd 69.77 1 68.48 1/1 14.57 81.54 10.89 25 1,938

The Opta statistics above indicate that both players have their strengths. Vermaelen is a more accomplished tackler and passer, with higher percentages in both, while Smalling has a stronger percentage of winning aerial challenges. The categories of winning challenges for possession and minutes for effective clearance are relatively even. 

  Teammins / Poss Lost Allmins / FoulsYellow CardGoals ConcededClean Sheet
Thomas Vermaelen Arsenal 18.19 130.33 0 16 1
Chris Smalling Man Utd 8.61 102.00 2 25 8

Though the Belgian lost possession less often the England international, as well as committing less fouls relative to his minutes, he didn't contribute to many clean sheets as part of the Arsenal defence, shutting out the opposition just once in his 14 games, and seeing more than a goal conceded every game. Smalling, despite playing in a struggling United defence, kept a clean sheet roughly every 3 games, and conceded less per match.

With Smalling 4 years younger than the Belgian international, and perhaps marginally a more comfortable right back than Vermaelen is a left back, an exchange looks like it may give both clubs what they need. For United, a top class defender in the prime of his career, and Arsenal, a promising player that may well be happy to bide his time as third choice, while also filling in at the currently vacant right back slot.

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