For the first time in a few years, Manchester City has had a quiet summer. Reports say that City are ready to make their largest splash of the summer in the signing of center back Eliaquim Mangala. This move for Mangala may make Serbian center back Matija Nastasic surplus to requirement. Arsenal have been linked to Nastasic multiple times this summer as they may need to replace club captain Thomas Vermaelen.
Arsene Wenger has admitted that his club captain may leave this summer and has declared that he will replace him if he does leave the club. Vermaelen seems to be off it just depends where he ends up. The Belgian’s two main suitors seem to be rivals Manchester United and Barcelona. Nastasic is younger and is supposed to have a lot of potential. The downside to him is he has struggled to stay fit. A real question though, is whether Arsenal would get an upgrade on Vermaelen if they signed the Serbian international.
One of the hallmarks of an Arsenal side is how they keep the ball. Part of that is how they are able to play out from the back. This requires centre-backs in an Arsene Wenger team to be comfortable with the ball at their feet as well as at the feet of their opponents.
Nastasic has had a slightly better pass completion percentage than Vermaelen in both of the last two seasons, but both are quite accurate with their passing. Vermaelen does make constant runs forward, which is not always a good thing and can lead him to being caught out of position, but shows his ability on the ball as well. In the last two seasons, the Belgian has completed 13 of his 15 attempted dribbles. Nastasic has not attempted one dribble in that time.
Arsenal defenders do need to be comfortable on the ball, but defending is still their number one job. The Gunners finally look to have a solidity to them that they have not had in the past with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Arsene Wenger will need to have confidence in his back ups, so he will be able to rotate them, something that was not done often last season.
Over the last two seasons, the biggest downfall of Thomas Vermaelen is that he has been so error prone. He has been one of those defenders that is good for at least one big mistake each game. In 2012/2013, the Belgian international made more defensive errors than any other outfield player in the Premier League. Nastasic is not as error prone making only two errors in the last two seasons. The current Arsenal captain has won a higher percentage of his ground duels, but Nastasic wins a higher percentage of his tackles. Vermaelen has made almost twice as many interceptions as the Serbian – implying that his ability to read the game is superior.
Statistically, Nastasic isn’t a clear upgrade on Vermaelen, but he isn’t a downgrade either. The Serbian is younger than the Belgian and has potential to become a top central defender. Vermaelen has made it very clear that he no longer wants to be at Arsenal. If the Gunners are able to sell him and replace him with the young Serb they should jump at the opportunity.