When Arsene Wenger decides that he’s had enough of toying with the mainstream media and pens a deal which confirms his stay at Arsenal for at least another season, he’ll more than certainly make sure that the purchase of top-class players are his primary concern.
Alongside the acquisition of a striker who is going to promise 20+ goals in a season it’s looking increasingly like a new full-back will need to be found to succeed Bacary Sagna, and there could be an argument to be made with regards to who stands between the sticks heading into the new campaign. In fact, there’s a case that can be put forward when calling for improvements to be sought for virtually all areas of Arsenal’s team if they want to be brought up to speed with their title rivals. All areas, that is, with the exception of midfield.
The Gunners’ prolonged charge for an unlikely Premier League campaign rumbled on for far more time than many would have believed possible prior to this season, but given their lack of quality in depth it was destined to derail at some point. Blame what you may for the extinguishing of Wenger’s ever-burning, title-chasing flame, but you can’t say it was a lack of quality in the middle of the park that was the overriding cause.
Mesut Ozil may not have enjoyed his most fruitful campaign to date, it’s fair to say that Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta went missing in some of the bigger matches and of course they weren’t helped by the injury to Aaron Ramsey, but for the most part the Arsenal midfield looked very much the part. They went about their business efficiently enough and, barring a severe injury crisis, they can match almost any team in the world in the key areas.
Why is it then that Wenger persists on pinpointing that as the position which he believes most needs strengthening? According to reports from various sources today the Frenchman has prioritised the capture of Bayer Leverkusen star Lars Bender above that of the likes of Karim Benzema, and is looking to bring in a long term replacement for the aforementioned Arteta before the start of next season.
Though the German midfielder is as combative and industrial as they come when protecting his back four, it will most likely be to the ire of many Arsenal fans if he arrives in north London and a world-class forward isn’t already there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not of the opinion that Bender isn’t good enough to slot into Wenger’s plans, nor indeed that he won’t sufficiently pick up the mantle of midfield steward where Arteta puts it down, but he’s not want the Gunners need in the current climate.
At 32 there’s a case to be made for Arteta having at least two more seasons in his current role before advancing years begin to get the better of him. The 33-year-old Steven Gerrard has provided more than enough evidence that a player can thrive in the role just in front of the back four regardless of his age, and though it may be deemed sensible for Wenger to be searching for his Spaniard’s successor well in advance, Arsenal aren’t in a position where they can pursue top targets for the future in the knowledge that their team of the present is up to scratch.
Bender can also play at right-back, which may very well be on the Frenchman’s agenda, but even then the most diehard Gunners fans will likely be begging the question as to why Arsenal aren’t concentrating their efforts on landing a striker who can fire them to the title in the same way Luis Suarez has done at Liverpool, or Sergio Aguero did with Manchester City in 2012.
For me the signing of Bender, rated at £17million, would be a luxury for Arsenal - yet another top class midfielder to add to an already brimming cauldron of creative talent. However you’d be hard pressed to find a fan who would place him as their no.1 priority heading into the transfer window, as Wenger has apparently done.
Call me a cynic, but one more star in the middle of the park isn’t going to make up the ground on those the Emirates outfit are currently chasing.