Reports this week suggest that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has made Bayer Leverkusen holding midfielder Lars Bender his top target to fill a position that is arguably the most in need of reinforcement this summer.
Last week, BBC Sport writer David Ornstein confirmed that negotiations for deals involving Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez and Newcastle United’s Mathieu Debuchy are operating alongside the search for a defensive-minded central midfielder.
Now, Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph confirms that Wenger’s main target in this position is German international Bender.
Wilson claims that Bender “has been identified as an ideal long-term replacement to Mikel Arteta.”
Whilst Arteta has been a consistent performer for the Gunners since his arrival in North London in the summer of 2011, there are question marks over his suitability in the position, particularly with a change in system accommodating a rather fragile Mesut Oezil.
The signing of Mathieu Flamini, on a free transfer from AC Milan last summer, went to some length to plug this gap, but the Frenchman could undoubtedly be upgraded on.
Furthermore, as Wilson writes, Arteta “is now 32 and out of contract next year.”
“Arsenal had a £19 million bid turned down last summer for Bender, who also signed a new contract at Bayer Leverkusen, but he remains high on the list of targets.”
It still remains debatable whether Wenger can convince Bender and Leverkusen that a move to the Premier League would be beneficial, so the Frenchman may be forced to look elsewhere.
Here are five holding-midfield options for Arsenal this summer, including Bender.
Twenty-five-year-old defensive midfielder Lars Bender joined Bayer Leverkusen from 1860 Munchen in 2009, and he has since become an integral member of the Bundesliga side’s first team.
In his five seasons for the club, Bender has made 137 league appearances, according to WhoScored.com.
A 6' central midfielder, Bender is an imposing presence in the Leverkusen midfield, operating as their defensive insurance as players such as Son Heung-Min and Stefan Kiessling launch the attack.
Per WhoScored, Bender made on average 3.7 tackles, 1.8 interceptions and 1.6 clearances per game in the Bundesliga last season, making the German a hugely effective defensive player.
Perhaps disappointingly, the midfielder ended the season with an average passing accuracy of just 77.7 per cent, and in this area Bender would require some adaptation to slot in to Wenger’s patient, passing system.
In comparison, Arteta’s passing accuracy was an exceptional 92.1 per cent, per Squawka.
However, at 25 years old, Bender has much scope for development, and he would be an excellent signing and an adept solution to any defensive issues in the Gunners’ midfield.
According to Stammers, the Germany holding midfielder “has only one year left on his contract at the Bernabeu and would cost around £18million.”
This would be a bargain price for the 27-year-old, 6'2'' (h/t RealMadrid.com) central midfielder.
Khedira made on average 1.1 tackles, one interception and 0.8 clearances per league game last season, with a passing accuracy of 86.5 per cent.
This pales in comparison to the defensive contribution of Bender, and for this reason this may leave the Madrid No. 6 on the periphery when it comes to Wenger’s options in the holding midfield.
However, Khedira possesses the uncanny ability to cover ground quickly and effectively, and combines his defensive and attacking duties in a way reminiscent of former Arsenal talisman Patrick Vieira.
At a relatively low fee and with undoubted quality, the signing of Khedira would depend on the role Wenger has earmarked for his potential holding-midfield signing.
Another long-standing target for Wenger in his search for a holding midfielder is Brazilian international Luiz Gustavo.
However, speaking to German magazine Kicker (h/t Sky Sports), Wolfsburg general manager Klaus Allofs is reportedly “wary” that an impressive World Cup for Gustavo could lead to continued interest in his charge.
“He has a long-term deal at our club. Of course, he is a Brazil international player and we know there could be a lot of changes to this if he is going to play a pivotal role at the World Cup.”
Furthermore, per the Daily Express, Allofs claimed in November of last that “Even at VfL [Wolfsburg] nobody is unsellable.”
The Brazilian had a passing accuracy of 86.5 per cent, and he also contributed four goals and two assists in the league from a deep-lying position.
Currently featuring heavily in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side at the World Cup, Gustavo will likely be a difficult asset to prize from the hands of Allofs, but he would be a phenomenal long-term signing for the Gunners.
According to The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson, Arsenal made an enquiry as to the availability of Bayern Munich’s Spanish behemoth Javi Martinez in May.
Wilson claimed “with Martinez having struggled to command a regular place in Pep Guardiola’s new Bayern team, Wenger wants to know whether the Bundesliga champions would be willing to sell.”
The Spaniard, a 6'3'' (h/t FIFA) 25-year-old, can also operate as a central defender.
However, according to Wilson, the player has a “preference” for a midfield role.
Per WhoScored, Martinez made 18 appearances in the Bundesliga last season.
With this in mind, Wenger could look to capitalise on the midfielder’s current peripheral role with the German champions.
Making on average 2.6 tackles, 1.6 interceptions and a massive 2.8 clearances per game last season, Martinez finds himself a comfortable mid-point between the other options presented.
Furthermore, with a passing accuracy of 89.6 per cent—indebted to his Basque roots, no doubt—the Spanish international would suit Wenger’s midfield perfectly.
A move to North London with Arsenal may be considered a step down for Martinez, but if Wenger could convince this effective, versatile option that a transfer would be worthwhile, the midfielder would be an exceptional signing for the Gunners.
Potentially continuing a depressing exodus from what was an impressive—and progressive—Southampton side, John Cross of the Daily Mirror last month linked Arsenal with a move for the Saints’ French holding midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin.
The 24-year-old would join manager Mauricio Pochettino, captain Adam Lallana, key players Luke Shaw and Rickie Lambert in leaving the South Coast for pastures new.
The midfielder will return to England after a holiday, following France’s 1-0 World Cup quarter-final loss to Germany.
Per Sky Sports, Schneiderlin will consider his future with the club when he returns.
Schneiderlin reports that new Saints manager “[Ronald Koeman] wants me to stay and we’ll see. I don’t know yet. I still have three years left on my contract at Southampton.”
Schneiderlin also boasted a passing accuracy of 89.3 per cent.
The youngest of the presented options—and the only player with previous Premier League experience—Schneiderlin would perhaps present the most pragmatic of targets for Wenger this summer.
However, if Wenger fails in his reported bid for Bender, Schneiderlin would be wise to focus on his prodigious compatriot.
Which of these holding midfield options would you prefer to see at Arsenal this summer? Let us know in the comments below.