Arsenal: Could Joel Veltman Be the Man to Replace Thomas Vermaelen?

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2014

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 6:  Joel Veltman of AFC Ajax in action during the UEFA Champion League group stage match between AFC Ajax and Celtic FC held on November 6, 2013 at the Amsterdam ArenA in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Anoek de Groot/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
EuroFootball/Getty Images

Having fought it out on the pitch all season long, Arsenal and Tottenham are preparing to do battle again this summer.

According to Matt Law of the Telegraph, the two clubs are squaring off over the future of Ajax centre-half Joel Veltman. He writes:

Arsenal are ready to battle with neighbours Tottenham Hotspur for the Ajax central defender Joel Veltman.

With the future of club captain Thomas Vermaelen unclear, Arsenal are considering a number of possible replacements this summer. Veltman is high on the list, but the 22-year-old has also impressed Tottenham’s scouts.

Holland manager Louis van Gaal awarded Veltman his international debut in November last year against Colombia.

Intriguingly, both clubs could turn to the Ajax defender in order to replace former Ajax men of their own. Vermaelen has been relegated to a mere reserve role at Arsenal, and he seems certain to move on in order to win first-team football and retain his international place.

According to Law, Spurs could lose a left-sided defender, too. When Jan Vertonghen moved from Ajax to Tottenham in the summer of 2012, he was hotly pursued by both North London clubs. However, Law suggests he "may look to leave White Hart Lane this summer after admitting he would assess his options if Tottenham miss out on Champions League qualification."

Spurs may have won the tussle over Vertonghen, but Arsenal will hope for better fortune when it comes to the case of Veltman.

Veltman is not as versatile as Vermaelen or Vertonghen. Unlike the Belgian pair, the Dutchman plays exclusively as a centre-half.

The fact that he is something of a specialist shows in the stats. According to Squawka, he wins a remarkable 66 percent of his duels. No current Arsenal defender can match that figure. His tackle success rate of 57 percent is superior to that of Vermaelen as well. This guy can defend.

Unsurprisingly for a Dutchman, he's also very comfortable on the ball. Unusually for a centre-half, he's attempted 49 take-ons this season. Even more unusually, he's been successful in 90 percent of those contests. A defender who can dribble is a rare commodity.

He can pass, too. A passing accuracy of 89 percent is impressive, especially when you factor in an ambitious average passing distance of 22 metres.

At 22, Veltman still has plenty of time to improve. However, he's already achieved plenty in his young career.

Veltman has been a key figure in the Ajax side that won a historic fourth consecutive league title under Frank de Boer. If Wenger is seeking a reference, he could do worse than to ask Ajax's current assistant manager, Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp.

Veltman is not a big name, but nor were Thomas Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny when they arrived. Arsenal need an up-and-comer to provide cover and competition for their first-choice defensive pairing, and the indications are that Veltman could fit the bill.

If Arsenal want him, they will need to beat their local rivals away from the pitch as well as on it.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.


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