Arsenal are currently missing something, that is not news to anyone who has watched the Gunners in recent years. What that something is can be debated, but an excellent way to start that argument would be by putting forward the case for Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Lars Bender.
As reported by John Cross in the Daily Mirror, Bender is now Arsene Wenger’s No.1 transfer target, and there are plenty of reasons why.
The 25-year-old is not your typical Arsenal player. He does not have the greatest pass completion statistics on the planet, he does not score, or even create many goals. However, what he does do well, unlike the current Gunners midfield, is tackle.
Bender is ferocious in the tackle, but not in a Paul Scholes, anything-could-happen way. Bender has tackling down to a fine art, and he executes it with typical German efficiency.
WhoScored.com measure Bender’s tackling average at 3.7 per game, this rates him not only better than any Arsenal player in this department, but as one of the very best in Europe. In the tackling stakes he is behind only two men in the Bundesliga and behind just three in the Champions League. In Europe’s premier competition he averages a whopping 4.5 tackles per game.
His stats for this season would put him second in the Premier League tackle table, solely behind West Brom’s Claudio Yacob.
To put this further into context, the man usually tasked with the midfield holding role for Arsenal is Mathieu Flamini. The Frenchman has largely been seen as having a decent return season for the Gunners, but he manages just 1.4 tackles a game. This is lower than players such as Jason Puncheon and Marouane Chamakh of Crystal Palace, men whose job is not, primarily, to win the ball from the opposition.
What Bender also brings to the table, which Flamini does not, is a physical presence in midfield. The German might not be Patrick Vieira, but he is over 6'0" and would give Arsenal a dynamic they do not currently possess in the middle of the pitch.
I haven't seen any report in Germany about "Lars Bender to Arsenal". I rate him. Would be a good "holding player" for a club like Arsenal— Jan Aage Fjortoft (@JanAageFjortoft) May 1, 2014
It would be unfair, though, to paint Bender as simply a big, physical midfield destroyer. He certainly has the skill to fit into a passing side—you cannot play in midfield for Germany 17 times without being able to play the ball about.
His passing stats would compare pretty poorly to the current Arsenal squad at under 80 percent, but that is the nature of Leverkusen’s game compared to Arsene Wenger’s side. This statistic would certainly improve were he to move to the Emirates Stadium.
Not that Wenger agreed with Paul Scholes when he went on his rant about the Gunners, but most thought the ex-Manchester United star had a point. Scholes was critical of Arsenal for lacking leaders throughout the team but especially lacking the discipline required in the middle of midfield.
Bender, who has captained Leverkusen on a regular basis, would be an instant remedy to that accusation. With a player like him anchoring the midfield, thrashings such as those received from Liverpool and Chelsea this year would be much less likely.
It will take more than one good signing for Arsenal to return to genuine title challengers, but Lars Bender would be a very good start to solving their current problems.
All stats via WhoScored.com.