With Arsene Wenger keen to make ‘at least one signing’ in the January transfer window, it appears the Gunners will be choosing between two German internationals.
It remains to be seen just which department Wenger believes requires strengthening; his opinions often clash with the rest of the footballing world, and in addition to Arsenal’s worrying lack of physicality and defensive awareness in midfield, the Gunners’ defence is in need of bodies too.
But Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny are both set to return from injury in the new year, at which point, we’ll all likely be once again reminded that a returning crocked star is the equivalent of a new signing, and Wenger told French publication beIN sport earlier this season that he desires “a physical presence with prodigious ability like Vieira or Petit”.
So striking an ideal equilibrium between price-tag, availability and Arsenal’s intrinsic needs are German midfield duo Sami Khedira and Christoph Kramer. But who should the Gunners choose?
Kramer is best known for his surprise inclusion in the summer’s World Cup final, only to come off with a head injury after just half an hour. Certainly the 23 year-old’s greatest claim to fame thus far, but that shouldn’t overshadow his brisk development at club level over the last two seasons.
On loan at Borussia Monchengladbach from Bayer Leverkusen, Kramer has established himself as one of the Bundesliga’s brightest prospects in the last 18 months. This season he’s averaged an impressive 2.8 tackles and three interceptions per match – the latter statistic is actually the tenth-best return out of the entirety of the German top flight.
The only Arsenal midfielder to come anywhere close to matching that this season is the much-maligned Mathieu Flamini, with 2.7 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per outing, so there’s no doubt the German international would bring vital variety to the Gunners’ engine room, providing the kind of industrial service Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey cant.
But he’s by no means the finished article – rather miraculously, Kramer netted an own goal from the centre-circle last month, lobbing goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Perhaps unfortunate, perhaps an act of god, yet still a symbolic gesture of his inexperience – especially in terms of decision-making.
Meanwhile, Sami Khedira has belonged to world football’s centre-mid elite for quite some time – essentially since his promising performances at 2010 World Cup, which quickly triggered a move to Real Madrid.
But the German international isn’t the tough-tackling enforcer he’s often made out to be by the English press; Khedira’s influence is better felt in a box-to-box capacity, through his athleticism, strength, aerial ability and elegant footwork. This is something Wenger commented on during the summer and the stats are incredibly telling. In sharp contrast to Kramer, the 28 year-old hasn’t averaged two tackles per match or more or two interceptions per match or more in his last three La Liga campaigns.
Considerably less dynamic than in his younger years however and boasting many natural requisites for that role, there’s no reason Khedira can’t transform himself into a deeper-lying, more disciplined ball-winner. Furthermore, his contract is up at the end of the season and a Bernabeu departure in January now seems inevitable, having seen just 65 minutes of action in the Spanish top flight and Champions League combined under Carlo Ancelotti this season – although Khedira has missed significant chunks of the campaign through injury.
So who should Arsenal choose in this case of Kramer vs Khedira? Well, in my opinion, neither – because they both come with huge flaws.
Kramer, although an enormously talented prospect, is not the proven winner that can transform Arsenal from eternal-fourth-placers to genuine Premier League title contenders. He’s also on loan at Gladbach and although that temporary switch could be conceivably cancelled to accommodate an Emirates move in January, it will likely take some added compensation on Arsenal’s part in addition to his rumoured £12million valuation.
Likewise, Khedira may fall rather firmly into the ‘proven winner’ category, having won both a Champions League title and a World Cup only this summer, but he’s not a natural defensive midfielder and the last thing Arsenal need is yet another one of Wenger’s pet projects in that position, like Mikel Arteta or Abou Diaby. They need the real deal – someone who can hit the ground running.
The German international has also spent the majority of the last two seasons injured – do the Gunners really want another injury-prone high-earner on their books amid a campaign that’s already seen 15 players sidelined for significant periods?
In my opinion, the answer to Arsenal’s defensive midfield conundrum, albeit a considerably more expensive one, is a lot closer to home – Southampton’s Morgan Schneiderlin.
The France international is easily the Premier League’s most talented enforcer outside of Chelsea and Manchester City, averaging 2.93 tackles and 2.67 interceptions per match over the last three campaigns.
He sits deep, controls the middle of the park with both mettle and the ball, boasting a pass completion of 90% this term, and simply lets the Saints’ more attacking options get on with it. He’s been a major factor in the St. Mary’s outfit rising to third place in the Premier League this season whilst also commanding the best defensive record in the division.
Southampton were reluctant to sell in the summer it’s believed they value Schneiderlin around the £30million mark. Still just 25 years of age, however, proven in the top flight and representing precisely what Arsenal currently lack in midfield, any alternative to Schneiderlin the Gunners target – including Khedira and Kramer – is an unnecessary, likely fruitless compromise.