While their North London rivals are successfully ditching their ‘Spursy’ tag – for the time being at least – there have been a number of results and performances this season that would fall into the ‘typical Arsenal’ bracket. Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of West Brom was the latest of.
Not only did the Gunners ultimately miss out on the chance to claim top spot in the Premier League for the first time this season, but they lost the one player that many thought they couldn’t afford to due to injury. Such has been the rise of Francis Coquelin’s importance to the side – a player that this time last year had just joined Charlton on loan – that many feel Arsenal’s title hope have ended with news that the Frenchman would miss the next three months.
Coquelin’s replacement against the Baggies was Mikel Arteta, who, after a 35-minute, own goal-scoring cameo, was also forced off through injury at the Hawthorns. Mathieu Flamini was next to step up, while Aaron Ramsey would likely relish a return to the heart of midfield following – you guessed it – another injury. However, Coquelin’s involvement since the turn of the year and Arsenal’s subsequent success – picking up six more Premier League points than any other side in that time – has showcased just how crucial the inclusion of a specialist defensive midfielder has been. A midfield of Ramsey and Cazorla would restore the soft centre the Gunners have been accused of having for years, so reinforcements in January are being weighed up.
Having missed the boat on the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Geoffrey Kondogbia over the summer, WhoScored.com assess a handful of alternatives to address Arsenal’s midfield dilemma.
Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen) – 7.86 rating
Emerging among the favourites to be pursued by Arsenal in their bid to bolster the ranks, Bayer Leverkusen captain Lars Bender has been linked to the Emirates for some time. Still only 26, the German international should be approaching his best years and is a highly reliable ball winner for Roger Schmidt’s side. Bender has won the most tackles per game in the Bundesliga this season (4.9), while an average of 3.7 interceptions per game is bettered by just three players.
With a further 5.7 aerial duels won per game, he is a dominant figure both with the ball and in the air and a WhoScored rating of 7.86 is enough to rank ninth of all players in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, suggesting Arsenal should certainly act on their interest.
Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach) – 7.43 rating
At just 23, Granit Xhaka is one of the hottest midfield prospects in Europe and likely to be highly sought after as a result. He, however, is more of a pass master than Bender – or indeed Coquelin – with only the metronomic Xabi Alonso averaging more passes per game in the Bundesliga (87.5). Nevertheless, the Swiss international is adept when it comes to breaking up play and analysing situations, with averages of 2.2 tackles and 3.2 interceptions per game.
If there is one weakness to Xhaka’s game, however, it’s something of a glaring one. His ill-discipline has seen him sent off 5 times since a move to Gladbach in 2012 and he is one of only two players in Europe’s top 5 leagues to be dismissed twice already this season, averaging more fouls per game (3.3) than any other player. There’s no doubt he has the talent, but Xhaka’s temperament is a legitimate concern.
Maxime Gonalons (Lyon) – 7.25 rating
Like Bender, Lyon skipper Gonalons is another player that Arsenal have been linked to in the past. The 26-year old has had to mature quickly over the years to lead a very young side in Ligue 1 and has done so to great effect. Adopting a safety first approach to passing, the French international’s accuracy of 90% this season would certainly not look out of place in North London, sitting just shy of Coquelin’s mightily impressive 91.5%.
Gonalons also offers a commanding presence in the air, winning 3.3 aerial duels per game, while averages of 2.5 tackles and 2.8 interceptions per Ligue 1 game would also be a welcome addition to the Arsenal ranks. Meanwhile a massive average of 6 tackles per game is the highest in this season’s Champions League, and the Frenchman would likely command a lower asking price than the aforementioned Bundesliga duo.
Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla) – 7.17 rating
Another from the endless list of names linked with Arsenal in the gossip columns this year, Grzegorz Krychowiak has excelled since a move to Sevilla at the beginning of last season. With plenty of options to choose from in midfield, the Polish international is perhaps the first name on Unai Emery’s team sheet regardless, and for good reason. Not only has the 25-year old added steel to the Spanish outfit’s ranks, but he popped up with crucial goals for the club last season.
This time around Krychowiak is yet to score but he offers an impressive range of passing and his anticipation is a real strength. To accompany a solid 2.4 tackles per game the midfielder has made more interceptions than any other player, not only in La Liga (53) but also this season’s Champions League (27). With a hefty buy-out clause in his contract, the Pole would be hard to budge from the Pizjuan Stadium.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find live in-game data as well as player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their free app.