Arsenal have money to spend this summer, of that there is no doubt. Gonzalo Higuaín, Wayne Rooney and even Fernando Torres have been linked with a move to North London as Arsene Wenger looks to unload his transfer ‘war chest’ on the unsuspecting footballing world, with the board keen to stress that the Frenchman can invest ahead of the new season.
Yet, with the transfer window freshly opened, allowing the pungent scent of money to enter the room, bicycle kick specialist Yaya Sanogo is the only player to have been welcomed through the Emirates Stadium front door. As Arsenal look set to bolster their striking options, it’s vital their defensive solidity isn’t compromised. Having conceded just five goals following the North London derby defeat to Tottenham Hotspur back in March, a similar mentality needs to be adopted when the campaign kicks off again next month.
A high proportionate of defensive midfielders have been linked with a move to the club as a result, regardless of Arsenal winning possession 927 times in the midfield third last season; only two teams - Southampton (1056) and Liverpool (983) - did so on more occasions. Paul Pogba, Etienne Capoue and Marouane Fellaini are all supposedly on the radar of the club as they look to bring in one or two midfield reinforcements prior to September 1st, made all the more pertinent when considering the injury troubles that continue to surround Abou Diaby.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise to see reports suggesting that the club have made a move for Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Lars Bender, only to see their bid turned down by the Bundesliga outfit. The Germany international impressed for the Werkself last year as they secured a third place finish, earning the right to ply their trade in the Champions League next season.
Bender was a crucial member of the Bayer first team, earning himself an average WhoScored.com rating of 7.41; only four Leverkusen players procured a higher score for the club. It was no shock to see the 24-year-old perform so admirably, with the midfielder making the most tackles (134) in the Bundesliga last season, equating to one every 20.8 minutes. That figure, when compared to every Arsenal player, is bettered only by Francis Coquelin (20.3 minutes), who played a peripheral role with the club last season and could be made available for transfer this summer.
Bender's overall tally averaged out at 4.1 tackles per game for Leverkusen, with only three players - Fagner (4.3), Aleksandar Ignjovski (4.3) and Oliver Fink (4.2) - making more per game in the Bundesliga, signifying his importance to Sami Hyypiä’s side. This is further reinforced by the fact that Bender missed just one Bundesliga game last season, while starting 32 of the 34, so it should come as little shock to see that Arsenal’s supposed £20m offer was turned down.
While his pass accuracy may’ve left a lot to be desired (79.3%), the predominant part of his game is winning back possession and utilising his energy, which is exactly the type of player Arsenal need to anchor the midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation, especially if he were to line up alongside Mikel Arteta in a double pivot. While this would likely see Aaron Ramsey dropped in favour of Bender, the Wales international was not nearly as impressive as his German counterpart when it came to breaking up play last season.
Ramsey made only 2 tackles per games, while his 1.2 interceptions per game was eclipsed by that of Bender (2.5), not only showcasing his capability to break up play, but also his positional sense and reading of the game. His discipline cannot be called into question either, with his heatmap showing the midfielder was largely situated on the right of the midfield in Leverkusen’s 4-3-3 this season. Granted, Ramsey’s pass success (88.2%) was far better than that of Bender, but the latter’s superior ability to win the ball back would surely stand him in better stead than the 22-year old.
Not only would this benefit Arsenal and their midfield solidity, but also right-back Bacary Sagna. The injury prone Frenchman has seen his performances called into question over recent months, however, reports suggest the 30-year-old is in discussions with the club over a potential new deal at the Emirates and it's likely he'll retain his place in the starting XI next season.
Should Wenger convince Leverkusen to sell Bender, the Germany international would be fully capable of covering for Sagna when the player marauds up the pitch to support the attack, safe in the knowledge that the midfielder would be providing the necessary defensive protection. His heatmap from last season insinuates that Bender often provided cover for right-back Daniel Caravjal when the Spaniard pressed forward with Leverkusen over the 2012/13 campaign, which is a facet of Bender's game that would likely appease the Arsenal manager.
While it remains to be seen as to whether Arsenal will make another move for the midfielder before the beginning of the new season, the stats reinforce Wenger’s decision to move for Bender. His defensive contribution would bolster an already strong midfield, while his shielding of the back four would only aid in solidifying the North London side in the hope of seeing them emerge once again as genuine Premier League title contenders.