Arsene Wenger is in no doubt which position he needs to strengthen this summer: defensive midfield. However, the identity of the man he is targeting is not yet clear as it seems their initial first choice, Lars Bender, has been usurped on the shopping list by Javi Martinez.
The Spaniard is thought to be unhappy at Bayern Munich, and this has alerted Wenger to his potential availability, per Sami Mokbel for the Daily Mail. The Gunners now want to wait and see what develops with the Martinez situation before fully pursuing their initial target, Bender.
This seems a smart move on the face of it. Especially as Bender has given no signs he wants to depart from current club Bayer Leverkusen—in fact, quite the opposite. The Germany international has made it clear he wants to stay where he is at the moment, per John Edwards for the Daily Mail.
I signed my new contract until 2019, and that should have told everyone how happy I am at Leverkusen.
I feel settled here and see no reason to change anything. In fact, if I am to be completely honest, I haven’t had an overly brilliant season and don’t feel ready yet to take on a pivotal role at a big club somewhere else.
I need to keep working on my game, and I am going to do that here at Leverkusen. That suits me, and I am happy with that.
Were a bid to be placed by Arsenal and accepted by Leverkusen, then this situation would change immediately. What is more, we have all heard players declaring their loyalty for their clubs only to be holding different coloured scarves above their heads a matter of days later.
However, it is a strong statement from Bender. It also means that if Wenger fails with Martinez, then he has a good reason for the German being second choice behind the Spaniard in transfer dealings; so everybody saves face.
Regardless of Bender’s situation, holding out for Martinez would be the right move nevertheless. The Spain international may not have had the impact expected of him at Bayern, having moved for a whopping £32 million in 2012, but he remains a world-class player.
Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque said of Martinez, per Bild (h/t SW Lim for Goal.com):
"Javi Martinez is a complete player who can cover any role he wants to on the pitch. He is a born leader best compared to Patrick Vieira, likewise covering much ground and solving much of any team's defensive midfield problems. He is a great player and a great person."
That is the kind of curriculum vitae that will have Arsenal fans excited. Add Martinez to a midfield including Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, and it is starting to look like one that could push on and challenge for the Premier League.
Why he has not hit the heights at Bayern is, at least in part, due to the fact he has been played out of position.
Martinez is capable of playing at centre-back, but his natural role is as a holding midfielder and he has not been deployed there regularly. The Spaniard openly admitted that his game has been hindered this season, per Jeremy Wilson for the Daily Telegraph: “I don’t have as much freedom on the field anymore. I don’t get forward as often and my game is a little more static. The coach [Guardiola] believes that I can play in any of the central positions and I’ll play where I’m needed.”
It is not surprising he is unhappy at the Allianz Arena as, in his preferred position or not, he has started just 13 Bundesliga games this season.
Who Would be a Better Signing for Arsenal?
Were he to move to Arsenal and reclaim a guaranteed first-team place, then he will inevitably recapture his best form. His big, imposing frame would suit the physicality of the Premier League, and his impressive pass completion ratio of 90 percent would suit the Gunners, per WhoScored.com. The added confidence in him will also bring out his leadership abilities, which are much needed in the Arsenal midfield.
Much depends on price, and whether Pep Guardiola wants to keep Martinez at Bayern, but if Wenger can tempt him to north London, then he will be worth the wait.