Scouting Report: Should Arsenal Replace Thomas Vermaelen with Papy Djilobodji?

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentApril 21, 2014

Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen looks to his right as he watches his teammates during their English League Cup soccer match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates stadium in London Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Alastair Grant

The future of Arsenal centre-back/left-back Thomas Vermaelen is uncertain so could he be replaced by Nantes centre-back Papy Mison Djilobodji?

To cover that hypothetical, here is a scouting report on the 25-year-old Senegalese international. 



Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believed Vermaelen's inability to lead by example plagued his mind with doubt which precipitated a series of defensive miscues.

Per ITV, Wenger said: 

You put more pressure on yourself when you are the captain. You want to be the best player in the team. But if you make one [mistake], then maybe you put a bit more pressure on yourself then because you think 'I am the captain and I cannot afford that'.

Several months later, Vermaelen's captaincy did not safeguard him from being dropped, per Rory Smith at the Times

Wenger softened the blow by disclosing how professional Vermaelen was in dealing with such an ego-crushing moment.

"He [Vermaelen] is a great man and I didn't make him captain by coincidence," Wenger said, per Sky Sports. "He took it in a remarkable way [when he lost his place]."

Yet it was still confounding that Vermaelen, a bit-part player at the Gunners in a FIFA World Cup year, did not force a transfer away in the January window.

Then he had up until February 27 to wrap up a move to a Russian club (Russia operates on a different window schedule) since FC Zenit wanted to sign him, per Simon Jones at the Daily Mail

The final say was, however, out of Vermaelen's control. 

If Wenger was willing to block Nicklas Bendtner's transfer away from the Gunners last summer, per Danish newspaper BT (h/t Kent Hedlundh at Sky Sports), there was no way Vermaelen, the back-up centre-back who can slot in as an emergency left-back, was going to leave in January. 

According to Vermaelen's agent Alex Kroes, Napoli and a host of clubs want to sign his client, but a decision will only be made after the World Cup, per (h/t Football Italia). 

Djilobodji, a 6'4" and 181-pound left-footed centre-back playing for Nantes, could be a viable option to replace Vermaelen at Arsenal.



Djilobodji is a towering presence for Nantes, leading the club in headers won (78). 


At one point of the season, he was winning 89 percent of headers, a rate that has since decreased to 78, per

League OnlyHeaders Won Per GameHeaders Won %
Laurent Koscielny1.756
Papy Djilobodji2.978
Per Mertesacker2.765
Thomas Vermaelen2.562

Djilobodji is more proficient in the air than Koscielny, Mertesacker and Vermaelen.

The primary characteristic of Djilobodji is his strength and his clean tackling (concedes 0.9 free kicks per game). 

He came out on top after a 50-50 challenge against Marseille right-forward Florian Thauvin, changed direction and played an accurate pass to Nantes right-attacking midfielder Serge Gakpe. 



What was so significant about the last play? 

Djilobodji's choice to look up, survey his options and play a ball that would trigger a counter-attack resulted in Nantes central attacking midfielder Alejandro Bedoya scoring.


That was Djilobodji starting off a move, and he has the technical ability to influence directly how Nantes attack. 

He surged to the halfway line against Bastia and played an immaculate Mesut Ozil-like lofted pass to put Gakpe through on goal.


When Toulouse's players backed off Djilobodji like the parting of the Red Sea, he unleashed a ferocious shot which swirled past Toulouse goalkeeper Ali Ahamada.




Djilobodji's concentration levels need to improve.

His mistimed clearance ricochetted off Rennes centre-forward Nelson Oliveira and Nantes centre-back Oswaldo Vizcarrondo.

Oliveira, one of the fastest players in Ligue 1, accelerated and swooped on the loose ball.


Another example came against Lille with Djilobodji—already on a yellow card—attempted to win the ball from behind against Lille centre-forward Salomon Kalou.  

It was an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration from Djilobodji, but if he wants to play at the highest level, he cannot make such a blatant misjudgement.  

It was a high-risk tackle, and Djilobodji forced referee Alexandre Castro to brandish a red card for a second yellow. 



Djilobodji at times plays with a David Luiz/Mats Hummels/Vlad Chiriches arrogance when in possession. 

While Djilobodji is technically astute, he tends to overcomplicate situations which led to him being tackled by diminutive Paris Saint-Germain central midfielder Marco Verratti.



Bottom Line

Could Arsenal sign Djilobodji? 

If Nantes are tempted into selling Djilobodji, they will offload him to a fellow French club if you are to go with history.

That was what happened with Dimitri Payet (Saint-Etienne; 2007), Jeremy Toulalan (Lyon; 2006), Mario Yepes (PSG; 2004), Sylvain Armand (PSG; 2004), Eric Carriere (Lyon; 2001) et al. 

But another barrier to Arsenal signing Djilobodji is that he may not receive a work permit. 

Djilobodji is not a stalwart of the Senegalese national team and has not played in 75 percent of his nation's international matches in the last two years to gain a work permit, per the

What about the countless players who have consistently contradicted that rule? 

If the Home Office takes up Football Association chairman Greg Dyke's suggestion, then Djilobodji will not fly under the radar.

Per the, Dyke said:

It is worth pointing out that roughly 30 percent of the players who received work permits this summer did not meet the standard criteria. We should also examine how the current work permit system operates.

Two prospective Arsenal players whose work permit applications were not rubber-stamped ended up turning into world-class players.

"We wanted to take him [Petr Cech] before he went to Rennes but we could not get a work permit," Wenger said, per the London Evening Standard (h/t Patrick Goss at Sky Sports). "Then last year, Chelsea did well. They bought him very early."

The other player is Yaya Toure.

"He [Toure] had no work permit and was too young. We tried to wait until when he was in Belgium, we tried to get him a European passport," Wenger said, per Chris Harris at Arsenal's official website. "He was not patient enough and left for Metalurh Donetsk."

The obvious flaw in Arsenal waiting it out until Djilobodji qualifies for a work permit is that he could turn into a star at another major club, like Cech and Toure.

Djilobodji is 6'4", he is left-footed, superb in the air, classy in possession and has put in some sterling performances.

By virtue of being a dominant left-footed centre-back, Wenger should roll the dice on Djilobodji, who would be a logical replacement for Vermaelen. 

If Djilobodji's work permit application is denied, loan him out and re-assess the situation after his loan spell. 

Though, given the vagaries of the work permit process, Djilobodji could slip through the cracks, as was the case with the 30 percent of players Dyke cited



Statistics via


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