By Joss Bennett
Usually during the madness of the summer transfer window, newspaper outlets and online sources add ‘journalistic licence’ to what is 90% of the time simply a guessing game. Someone decides what Arsenal are really lacking is a striker, and so every man and his dog is linked with the club whether a real target or not – as seen with Loic Remy, among others.
At first glance, the story of Sami Khedira’s proposed move to Arsenal seemed like another one of those stories. A German international who was injured for most of last season and yet is still highly regarded amongst most for both club and country – and with apparent wage demands of £100,000 a week plus on top of a sizeable transfer fee for a player whose contract runs out in a year is hardly an archetypal Arséne Wenger signing.
And yet the story has continued to run, and at the moment he seems to be the favourite amongst an increasingly short list of ‘defensive midfielders’ to join the Gunners.
Should the Real Madrid midfielder join the club, it would certainly pose an interesting tactical question for Wenger and his staff – and surely presents plenty of risk (whether or not that’s considered a good thing these days).
When playing for his country, Khedira has been a far cry from a holding midfielder. Making only three tackles in five appearances during the World Cup – yet four shots (one goal) and five key passes (one assist), and averaging 0.8 dribbles per game – clearly shows a freer, more box-to-box role.
Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, Arsenal’s first choice holding midfielder last season, averaged 3.4 tackles per game with only 0.6 key passes per game, 0.5 dribbles per game and a total of 12 shots in more than 30 league appearances in 2013/14. Even Aaron Ramsey, the more attacking of Arsenal’s double pivot averaged 3.3 tackles per game in a standout season for him.
However, with the Spaniard now 32 – and his only back-up, Mathieu Flamini now 30 – there is no doubt that he needs replacing sooner rather than later.
In theory, there’s no overwhelming reason why two box-to-box players can’t work together (and it may well be something Wenger sees Ramsey and Jack Wilshere doing in the future).
However, if it were to work it would require both to have a good understanding of one another and the rest of their team and excellent discipline.
While both may be capable of these, it would be a shame to limit Ramsey’s attacking freedom after a season when he clearly found his confidence and scored 10 league goals, and the move would certainly have to be completed soon before Wenger was forced into trial and error in competitive games.
The other option if a deal were to happen would of course be for Wenger to use Khedira in a similar way to vice-captain Arteta. Despite his role for Die Mannschaft, the 6’2” former Stuttgart man is capable of playing a more withdrawn role, as his performances for Real Madrid in 2012/13 showed.
In that season, Khedira’s offensive stats were significantly lower than during the World Cup.
Playing in a deeper role behind Luka Modric, Angel Di Maria and – perhaps importantly – Mesut Ozil, the German made just 0.2 dribbles per game and managed less than one shot and key pass per game. On the other hand, his tackling stats rose to two per game and a further 1.2 interceptions per game (not too far short of Arteta’s 2 per game ratio).
So whether Khedira would need ‘converting’ like Arteta did is perhaps up for debate, although we have seen over the years that Wenger has the know-how to change a player’s role if necessary, and he certainly enjoys the challenge.
However, whether or not Khedira would fit into the Gunners’ system (or indeed whether it would have to be changed to accommodate him) may prove to be less of a stumbling block than the player’s wage demands.
While the apparent £45 million already spent by Wenger may suggest a changing of the times in some respects, it’s difficult to envisage the manager giving in to the demands of a player who would surely be a luxury rather than necessity at this point.
With players like Lars Bender and Morgan Shneiderlin seemingly available at a similar price and less tactical risk, a move for Khedira seems to have less business sense as first choice but an envious third or fourth choice.