Why Sven Bender would drastically improve Arsenal’s defensive-midfield options

Sven Bender

With Arsenal linked to Borussia Dortmund’s Sven Bender, who is reportedly keen on a move to the Premier League, does the German midfielder represent a better option than those already available to Arsene Wenger in midfield?

Bender had an injury hit season for Dortmund, who struggled to replicate their brilliant form of recent seasons. The 25-year-old suffered a groin problem in February, and failed to regain his fitness before the World Cup. He is, however, one of the more talented defensive midfielders operating in Europe today, and most Premier League sides would benefit from his fully fit presence.

Arsenal have a multitude of talents available to them in midfield, with the likes of Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Jack Wilshere all able to play in the defensive midfield role. Arsenal have, however, clearly not had a settled pairing in that position, with only Arteta playing more than 30 matches. Arsenal suffered injury problems of their own over the course of the season, with both Ramsey and Wilshere missing large swathes of the season.

Would turning to a player who has struggled with injury over the last season be a sensible option for Arsenal? It might still be a good idea, given the quality Bender possesses, his interest in the move and the fact that, for the first time in his relatively successful career, he is at a low ebb after missing so much football.

In the 19 games that Bender did play in the Bundesliga last season, his statistics compare very favourably to Arsenal’s deeper midfield quartet.

Arsenal have clearly missed bite in their midfield in recent seasons, which is why the initially maligned Mathieu Flamini was seen as such a revelation when he started to play regularly. Sven Bender would offer Flamini’s work rate and ability to break up play, while adding more to Arsenal’s game as well.

Sven Bender's tackling per 90 minutes compared to potential Arsenal teammates.

Sven Bender’s tackling per 90 minutes compared to potential Arsenal teammates.

The best way to compare the players, given the varied number of games they have each played in the league, is per 90 minutes played. Only Aaron Ramsey performed more tackles than Bender of Arsenal’s midfielders per 90 minutes, managing 3.32 to Bender’s 3.14. Flamini, Arteta and Wilshere performed far worse, with 1.40, 2.62 and 1.41 respectively.

Bender would also aid Arsenal in breaking up play in another way, his intercepting ability. With Arsenal repeatedly struggling against teams that counter attack effectively against them, a man who can position himself well and stop those breaks can be an invaluable addition.

The German international managed 2.42 interceptions per 90 minutes last season, compared to Arteta, who was Arsenal’s top interceptor in midfield with 2.36. Flamini also managed 2.19, with Ramsey and Wilshere stopping moves with interceptions 1.18 and 0.52 times per 90 respectively.

Bender was also the only player of the five not to make a single defensive error all season, showing the extent to which he can be trusted. Arsenal have become infamous in recent years for defensive mistakes costing them hugely in important matches.

Bender's defensive errors relative to Arsenal's midfielders

Bender’s defensive errors relative to Arsenal’s midfielders

While Bender is clearly a risky option, given his injury problems last season, he is a talented player and exactly the sort Arsenal need to improve their midfield.

With so many of their players alike, adding some steel in the form of Bender could improve their team and get them back challenging for major honours.

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Amitai Winehouse
Amitai Winehouse has written for The Guardian, Sporting Intelligence, the Yorkshire Evening Post and The Square Ball. When he's not doing that, he likes long walks on the beach and filling out the wrong profile information on the wrong website.
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