We compare Lars Bender and Sami Khedira, the two German midfielders who have been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger wants a new central midfielder this season, that much is certain, and it even seems to be a fair bet that the man who eventually poses with a red shirt outside the Emirates Stadium will be German. Which one of the two names linked, Sami Khedira or Lars Bender, will eventually make the move, however, is still up in the air.
Wenger is on the hunt for a defensively minded midfielder to become the undisputed first choice at the club in that role, with both Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta coming towards their twilight years and rarely having sparkled last season, despite never really letting anyone down with their displays.
Bender and Khedira emerging as the favourites for the role does betray a continual feature of Wenger’s management, though – the distrust of the out-and-out holding midfielder, something that he has rarely toyed with during his long spell at the club. Flamini and Gilberto Silva are the closest that they come, but neither are holding midfielders in what has become the accepted Makelelian definition of the role.
Khedira, in particular, is a continuation of this friend. Ostensibly defensive, Khedira retains the natural inclination to press the opposition and break beyond the ball that he had during his breakthrough years at Vfb Stuttgart. This makes him hard to employ as a genuine holding midfielder, but an intriguing option as part of an all-round pivot, as he plays for Germany alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, and would be likely to do so for the Gunners with Aaron Ramsey.
Ramsey is less positionally disciplined than Schweinsteiger, however, putting more pressure on Khedira to curb his instincts and use his experience to hold his place in the centre of the park whilst Ramsey’s makes the late runs into the box that defined the Welshman’s play last season.
This leaves Bender as perhaps a more intriguing option, with the Bayer Leverkusen man being far more capable of sticking to a disciplined holding role than Khedira, despite both players having box-to-box instincts.
The key difference is that Khedira began as a box-to-box midfielder whose attacking intent was curtailed by both his national team and Real Madrid, whilst the naturally defensive Bender was encouraged to add more strings to his bow to become a more dynamic all-round contributor to the Bayer Leverkusen team.
His signing would give Wenger the advantage of switching his role depending upon the opposition – given more freedom to burst forward in games where Arsenal don’t require huge amounts of defensive cover, but played as a strictly holding player in tough matches to help avoid any repeat of the thrashings that the Gunners received at Liverpool and Chelsea last season.
Bender has also got age on his side and given the wage structure at Bayer Leverkusen in comparison to an elite level club like Real Madrid, he is likely to command less in wages than his more established international teammate. That would make him the more cost effective option for a club who have forever been obsessed with squeezing out value for money.
To do so whilst also capturing a player who is on the verge of becoming world class and who would excite the club’s fans should be the icing on the cake for Wenger, as long as he can ignore the allure of Khedira’s huge reputation.