How close were Arsenal to landing Sami Khedira from Real Madrid this summer and finally laying to rest the topic of the defensive midfield role? Not very, according to Arsene Wenger. Contact and even interest from the Gunners was apparently pure fabrication.
So it’s back to the drawing board, and if we’re to believe that Wenger is interested in Paris Saint-Germain’s Adrien Rabiot – the Ligue 1 side are willing to let him leave due to his expiring contract – Arsenal may yet go another window without buying an established specialist at holding midfield.
Should there be worry? Well yes, but only if you subscribe to the rigid theory that all defences need to be protected by an axe-wielding behemoth standing seven feet tall. Obviously I don’t. If Arsenal are to secure the signing of Rabiot, who has been on the radar for many months, it will act as a means to make up the numbers. The French midfielder could eventually be moulded into the team’s first-choice defensive midfielder, but his signing would indicate that Wenger has found his solution in house.
There is sure to be frustration among the Arsenal support. Wenger has the financial means so why not flex that muscle in the transfer market? The question, though, is where does he take aim?
Khedira’s wage demands make him an undesirable option; Lars Bender won’t be released by Bayer Leverkusen; and Javi Martinez, even if Bayern Munich were willing to negotiate, is now injured until sometime after the winter break. Beyond them there are no obvious candidates. Morgan Schneiderlin? Alex Song? William Carvalho? It doesn’t need much explanation as to why Wenger would be put off by those deals.
So if the players aren’t there, why spend just for the sake of spending? I have absolutely no doubt that Arsenal need another option in midfield. Rabiot would be a good addition who won’t carry too much pressure to perform immediately; he’s 19 and would quite clearly be marked as one for the future.
So what are the options?
It may very well be that Wenger has identified Jack Wilshere to take up that role. Now obviously that won’t strike confidence in most, but the Arsenal manager must like what he’s seen from Wilshere in pre-season training to be convinced that he’s an option. If not, Aaron Ramsey; and it shouldn’t be written off that both Ramsey and Wilshere could partner one another in the centre of midfield. Mikel Arteta may hold the captain’s armband, but he doesn’t have the legs to be a mainstay in the team for the entire season.
But the chapter isn’t closed on bringing in an established player. Sami Khedira’s agents are still reportedly trying to conclude a deal that would see the German international leave Real Madrid – and the Spanish side are very much keen to see him off this summer rather than for free in a year. If that is to be the case, Rabiot’s prospective signing could simply amount to Wenger gambling on a low-risk but high-reward talent.
Above all, Arsenal need numbers. The style of play employed by Wenger doesn’t necessarily force the need for a destroyer in the midfield, just players intelligent enough to break up opposition play. Silverware can be attained without clubs acquiring a stereotypical defensive midfielder.
If Rabiot signs and blossoms into a good player, then Wenger will have completed another good piece of business. But the Arsenal manager isn’t known for loading the decks. If Rabiot arrives, he more than likely will be the only central midfield addition. Such a scenario would suggest the manager has his ‘defensive midfield’ option already at the club.