Arsene Wenger’s ambition to strengthen the core of his Arsenal team looks to have taken another turn, with reports suggesting that the Gunners have reinstated Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender as the man they want to bolster the centre of midfield.
According to John Cross of The Mirror, the 25-year-old could be available for around £15 million, and that’s pushed the German international to the top of Wenger’s wanted list ahead of Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira and Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin.
Bender is currently recovering from a thigh injury that has ruled him out of this summer’s World Cup, and the news that he might be back on the market is at odds with what the player himself said a couple of months ago, when he insisted he was happy with the BayArena club, per Bild (h/t Stephan Uersfeld of ESPN FC):
I've only just prolonged my contract until 2019. I am happy here at Leverkusen and feel great. I don't need to change that right away. Moreover, my season wasn't that brilliant, so I don't feel I need to make the move to a huge club now.
Indeed, Bender only agreed to sign a new deal with Leverkusen back in October 2013, but if recent reports are to believed, either the club or the player has had a change of heart.
When Bender signed his new deal, the German outfit were flying high in the Bundesliga, but a disappointing end to the campaign saw their manager, Sami Hyypia, sacked. Leverkusen eventually secured Champions League football for next season on the last day of the campaign.
Bender has long been the standout man in this Leverkusen team and, currently on the cusp of the best years of his career, perhaps he feels the time is right to go in search of new challengers in another country.
He's an critically important figure at Leverkusen, though, as noted here by Bundesliga expert Clark Whitney:
Bender is a symbol at Leverkusen, a coveted, talented player who's young but spent 5yrs there already. A rare exception for B04 1/2— Clark Whitney (@Mr_Bundesliga) March 25, 2014
As Wenger looks to strengthen his squad for next season with the signings of Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy, per Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph, the Emirates is certainly looking like an increasingly attractive destination for players looking to challenge for major honours.
Indeed, Arsenal supporter Piers Morgan believes that the Gunners are making all the right moves in the transfer market up to this point:
We don't need Fabregas. We need world class strikers, a big nasty midfield general, and a new right back. #Arsenal— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 5, 2014
The Premier League is also an environment in which Bender would flourish. Here’s a taster of why he'd be perfectly suited to the English top flight:
Bender’s energetic playing style and defensive acumen make him the ideal man to slot in at the base of this Arsenal midfield. Wilson suggests in his piece that Bender is viewed as the long-term replacement for 32-year-old Mikel Arteta, but the two players are completely different; Bender would bring a whole host of different attributes to this Arsenal team.
His lateral forays in front of the back four for Leverkusen have made the Bundesliga team a notoriously difficult side to break down in recent years, and Arsenal have been lacking a player boasting those kind of qualities for a long time now.
Sure Wenger likes his team to defend primarily by keeping the ball, but away-day humblings by Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton last season—matches in which the Gunners’ central midfield was completely dominated—look to have inspired the Frenchman into moving for a thoroughbred destroyer in the middle of the park.
Which of these three should be Arsenal's priority this summer?
Of the three targets muted, Wenger has made the right choice by prioritising Bender as the man to bring some authority to that area of the pitch. Khedira has been a fine player for Real Madrid, but his career has been punctured by injuries of late, which will certainly be of concern for the Arsenal boss.
Schneiderlin is also a midfielder who has been very impressive at club level for Southampton. But he’d most likely cost more than the £15 million that the Gunners would have to shell out for Bender, per Adrian Kajumba of the Daily Star, which is nonsensical when you consider the German’s experience of playing at the game’s pinnacle far surpasses that of the Saints man.
Bender’s presence would afford even more freedom for the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and maybe even Sanchez to wreak havoc on Premier League defences next season. Should he join up, Bender's work will be understated and go largely unnoticed, but if Wenger can pull off a deal, the German could well be the most important signing Arsenal make all summer.