Arsenal have had a bid of £18.5m for Lars Bender turned down by his club Bayer Leverkusen. However, despite protestations from the German club that he is not for sale at any price, they have shown in the past that they will sell if the right offer comes in. Leverkusen aren’t a massively rich club and if Arsenal are serious about getting Bender they can.
Realistically, if Arsenal offered the £24m that it is rumoured the club is considering offering Everton for Fellaini, to Leverkusen for Bender, they would accept. And they should do it. Lars Bender would be a perfect signing for Arsenal. He has many of the same qualities that made Patrick Vieira such an immense presence for Arsenal.
Last season Arsenal changed tactics over the last couple of months of the season. This change of tactics saw the club tightening things up defensively after a series of errors and defensive fragility had seen a horrible few months either side of new year. This was casued by two things. The much more celebrated change in central defence which saw Laurent Koscielny returned to the first team to form an excellent combination with Per Mertesacker, but just as important was a change in midfield set up which saw Aaron Ramsey deployed as a defensive shield in front of the back four.
Unlike Arteta or Wilshere who saw time in deep midfield, Ramsey was detailed solely to stay deep and protect the defence. He wasn’t given license to get forward and he was charged with playing a very simple distribution game. He did a good job of harrying the opposition and slowing their attacking movements to give the defence assistance. He did a good job with his enthusiasm and discipline but he’s not the best Arsenal could get. Lars Bender is one of the best destroying midfielders in Europe and would be a big upgrade.
Bender is 6ft, strong, tough and very intelligent. Unlike more rugged screening midfielders Bender uses his positional intelligence and ability to read the game to get himself in to uncannily good positions to stop attacks. He also has enough speed to break up counter attacks.
His tackling and particularly intercepting are his strong points but what is also a vital skill of his, is that he organises the rest of his midfield. In a young Leverkusen team, he stepped in to the massive breach caused by the loss of Arturo Vidal and has matured in to a massive on field presence. The way that he grabbed hold of the young Leverkusen team and hauled them to the Champions League was reminiscent of the way Vieira used to grab Arsenal by the scruff of the neck in his heyday.
Bender would be an ideal compliment to Wilshere or Arteta in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1. He has a good passing game and can recycle possession quickly. He is excellent at quick possession recovery and distribution. This really helps for counter attacking, and this is what makes him so perfect for Arsenal.
Last season, the Gunners were at their most devastating when breaking at speed. The pace of Walcott and Cazorla with the clever runs of Podolski overwhelmed teams at times. Although they are good when controlling possession, they are not as savagely effective. Bender would be a massive upgrade for a now counter attacking team.
One of the big criticisms of Ramsey is that he can at times be a little ponderous in possession which ill suits effective counter attacking. Bender makes quick and correct decisions when in possession, particularly after recovering the ball himself. Whether by tackling or a clever interception, Bender can take the ball away from the opposition and the attacking players can make their moves in the full knowledge that Bender has the quality and intelligence to pick them out.
This is a big advantage that Bender holds over Arsenal’s supposed other option in midfield, Marouane Fellaini. Fellani is a whirlwind presence in the midfield and is a tidy ball player. But he doesn’t have the canniness than Bender does, he doesn’t have that innate decision making capability that Bender possess.
Not only would Bender’s immense defensive abilities be a big upgrade, but can set counters in motion. His leadership is strong and he has a real winning mentality. Lars Bender would be worth every penny of the £20m+ it would take to get him and Arsenal would have themselves a new Patrick Vieira.