With a multitude of media outlets claiming that Arsenal are chasing Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender, it appears as though Arsene Wenger is going over old ground. A failed bid of around £19million last summer was as far as his interest went, but as the Gunners’ boss seems willing to push the boat out further, it brings into question what Bender will bring to his current squad?
Leverkusen are currently fourth in the Bundesliga, but face a battle to gain a Champions League spot as Wolfsburg are breathing down their necks. The potential loss of Champions League football could push Bender into wanting to leave, and with a heavy German presence at Arsenal, he may be tempted to cross the pond and join forces with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski.
It’s thought, after a somewhat topsy-turvy season, that Wenger is starting to look beyond Mikel Arteta. The trusty Spaniard has come into a fair amount of criticism during Arsenal’s March slump. While Arteta remains a key figure at the club, both on and off the pitch, it’s become clear that his age is beginning to creep up on him.
Against more mobile, more skilful opposition, Arteta has struggled. His calming, technical presence in the middle of the field was little comfort for the Gunners as they were steam-rolled by Liverpool, Chelsea, and Everton away from home. It’s believed Wenger sees this particular area of the field as in need of bolstering as he looks to kick on from this season, and Bender is the number one target.
But as a direct replacement for Arteta, Bender is certainly not. The 25-year-old has iron lungs, he’s athletic, hard-working, will cover the field, and he’s a versatile option, having filled in at right-back for Germany on a number of occasions. He also has a nice tendency to produce well-timed runs into the penalty area, adding a goal to his collection every so often. So in this respect, he would add more oil to Arsenal’s engine. He’s a more natural defensive player than Arteta, and is probably best compared to Mathieu Flamini, with more quality in possession.
One player he certainly isn’t, though, is Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard is incredibly composed on the ball, consistently achieving over 90 per cent pass completion, and is a master at recycling possession and providing an option for both Arsenal’s defence and midfield. Lars Bender is by no means a poor ball-player, but his miserly 77 per cent pass completion isn’t the most impressive for a defensively-minded player (though this may say more about Leverkusen’s style of play than his quality). And it can’t hold a candle to Arteta’s 91.7 completion rate.
One more player who Bender does not reflect is Patrick Vieira. Since his departure to Juventus in 2005, many Gooners have been living in hope that Wenger will unearth the next Vieira. If Bender is added to Arsenal’s squad, they still won’t have found an equivalent. Bender lacks the presence of the ex-captain. He hasn’t got the height, physicality, or assurance in possession to draw comparisons to the Gunners legend.
What Bender is, is a destroyer. He’d add legs and aggression to Arsenal’s midfield, which they have certainly lacked on occasions this season. Mathieu Flamini, all things considered, has been a success story on his return to Arsenal, bearing in mind he joined on a free transfer. Lars Bender would be a considerable, and more youthful, step up from Flamini.
He hasn’t got the technical quality of some of Wenger’s current crop, and lacks the dominance of the old guard, but the balance he could add may just be a vital cog in Arsenal’s machine.
With 17 caps in three years for Germany, Bender wouldn’t have had this if he were a poor player. He’s rated highly by his national coach, and he’s prized by Bayer Leverkusen.
It’s thought that Wenger may have to put more money on the table than he did last summer to snatch Bender from Leverkusen. With a contract running until 2019, the German side won’t accept a small offer. But if Wenger is willing to spend, Bender would add something extra to the Gunners’ growing list of high quality footballers.