It has been a summer of uncharacteristic indulgence by Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, taking advantage of the new lucrative kit deal with Puma to bolster a squad that ended a 9 year trophy drought last May, and now harbours genuine ambitions to become title challengers once again.
Around £55 million has been spent to bring in Alexis Sanchez, defenders Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy, plus Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, on top of the £42 million club record acquisition of Mesut Ozil last August.
The Gunners finally stepping away from their period of self-inflicted caution in the transfer-market as they realise in order to compete with rivals on the field they must be able to compete with them financially, off the field.
This current window seems likely to end with a familiar feeling of frustration as attempts to sign Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira look set to fail. The German midfielder is available for a knock-down price with his contract a year away from expiration, Khedira having rejected a new contract but has not publicised his desire to leave the Spanish club. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has ended the speculation by saying the 27 year old will stay, despite his position becoming doubted by the arrival of compatriot Toni Kroos.
A price in the region of £12 million would have been stunning business for a midfielder who played a large role in Germany’s World Cup victory in Brazil over the summer, and with Chelsea and Bayern Munich not interested, the path was seemingly clear for Wenger to add to his midfield with a player of undeniable talent and experience.
Arsenal’s search for a midfield shield has seemingly gone on for some time, with Luis Gustavo targeted last season before the club eyed Lars Bender from Bayer Leverkusen. Not since Gilberto Silva’s departure in 2008, who had the moniker “the invisible wall” during his time in North London, have Arsenal had a reliable holding midfielder.
With Sanchez joining an impressive array of attacking options that includes fellow World Cup winners Ozil and Lukas Podolski, as well as Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Khedira could have potentially added steely discipline to the midfield that anchors proceedings behind them.
Most at home in a midfield 3, the German offered the energetic drive alongside Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric in Madrid, and with Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Phillip Lahm in Brazil this summer.
However in neither of these teams has Khedira been a truly defensive force with Alonso anchoring for Madrid, while in Joachim Low’s brilliantly fluid Germany, responsibilities were shared between the three.
Blessed with a powerful physique, Khedira is naturally strong at winning the ball back but his energy and work-rate is too much of an asset to be restrained by the requisite for discipline. Real Madrid’s official website describes him as “a dynamic midfielder who covers all of the pitch, wins the ball back in the middle and joins the attack”.
It fits the bill of a perfect box-to-box midfielder, gifted off the ball as well as on it, a muscular presence that can shrug off opponents to win the ball then charge up the field with explosive energy, who can forget Kroos and Khedira marching through Brazil’s midfield at will in Belo Horizonte? Yet there are doubts if Arsenal truly require the qualities the German would provide.
With Mathieu Flamini, 30, and Mikel Arteta, 32, both advancing into the twilight of their careers, Wenger will be astute enough to know he requires a designated defensive presence, not another option in the mould of Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere. Khedira would have added unarguable ability but it would have possibly left Arsenal’s midfield looking too cavalier to offer genuine protection to the back four. A similar player in Abou Diaby is also on the Emirates wage bill but continues to be undermined by a wretched record with injuries.
Making more sense is Arsenal’s pursuit of William Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon, the 22 year old Portuguese midfielder who is habitual to the holding role. The Angolan born midfielder is disciplined enough to sit in front of the defence and does not hold the same desire to move forward like Khedira. Big, strong and powerful, Carvalho will give Arsenal a protective midfield presence in the same vein as Nemanja Matic does at Chelsea or Yaya Toure and Fernando at Manchester City, and for a slightly reduced price of £24 million as the Portuguese club have lowered their demands from the previous £35 million release clause.
With Wenger perhaps concerned by a slow start to the new season which has included a limp 2-1 win over Crystal Palace and a fortunate 2-2 draw with Everton, negotiations with Sporting are likely to run on with the selling club also keen on an Arsenal talent in a part-exchange deal. Whatever Arsenal think represents true value, they will surely be better off targeting Carvalho than Khedira as they seek their ever-elusive long-term answer to their defensive midfield issues.
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