Arsenal are on the lookout for a new central midfielder after being overrun so many times in the middle of the park last season. Names such as Lars Bender, Sami Khedira, Morgan Schneiderlin and so on have been flung about but the three named are the most likely targets for the Gunners.
Khedira is currently at the World Cup with Germany and set to take part in the semi-final against a weakened Brazil who lost Neymar for the rest of the tournament and will miss Thiago Silva through suspension.
Schneiderlin is on his way home, or on his holidays, right now though as Khedira’s Germany beat his France team-mates in the quarter-finals at the weekend. The Southampton midfielder made one appearance in Brazil during the group stages and looked good, completing 93% of his passes.
And Lars Bender, Arsenal’s latest transfer target, is back in training with Bayer Leverkusen ahead of pre-season after pulling out of the World Cup with a thigh injury.
With the Gunners linked with all three players and only likely to bring one in, I’ll take a look at their figures averaged out over 90 minutes throughout the entirety of last season to see which player would be better suited to Arsenal.
The Gunners need a battling midfielder who wins a lot of duels and contests in the middle of the park. They also need someone capable of passing with ease and dictating the tempo of a match on his own, controlling the team’s movement from a deep position behind the attackers.
That would allow cover for Aaron Ramsey to burst forward from central midfield and cause chaos for the opposition. It would be similar to the cover Rafael Benitez provided for Steven Gerrard during his prime years when Xabi Alonso’s and Javier Mascherano’s presence allowed him freedom to express himself in dangerous positions further up the pitch.
In terms of passing, Schneiderlin wins quite comfortably ahead of Khedira and Bender. Last season, he averaged just over 55 successful passes per 90 minutes, 11 ahead of Khedira and almost 23 ahead of Bender. Schneiderlin also dominates in the forward passes category as well, averaging 39.68 per 90mins compared to Khedira’s 33.26 and Bender’s 27.95.
Their total pass completions rates saw the Frenchman out on top again as he completed 89% of his passes, just better than Khedira’s 86% and far better than Bender’s 77%.
So, in terms of passing and being able to control the game and the tempo from the base of midfield, Southampton’s Frenchman surely usurps his German counterparts. Schneiderlin may not be as big a name as Khedira or Bender but he does a much better job as the metronome in midfield.
Now, in terms of tackling, Schneiderlin sits ahead of Khedira again but Bender really shines in this category. Schneiderlin averaged 2.83 successful tackles last season while Real Madrid’s Khedira, who did suffer a bad knee injury halfway through the season, won just 0.83 per 90mins. A clear difference. However, Bayer’s Bender won an average of 3.34 tackles per 90 minutes, showing a clear talent at winning the ball back.
Just for added measure, Bender also beats Schneiderlin and Khedira when it comes to headed duels as well. The German averaged 2.96 successful headed contests last season while Schneiderlin averaged 1.53 successful headed duels for Southampton and Khedira dropped under one again.
The Saints man, however, wins in terms of interceptions, which is another key aspect of a central midfielder’s role, especially the one Arsenal will be looking for. Schneiderlin made 2.21 interceptions every 90 minutes last season, almost double of Khedira’s tally of 1.21, but a slightly smaller gap between himself and Bender’s 1.96.
It is quite clear, based on these statistics, who would be better suited for Arsenal. Schneiderlin is not only the better option but would command a much cheaper transfer fee. He is an excellent passer and is adept at tackling, too, despite Bender’s dominance in that department.
The German’s lack of passing ability must be a worry for Arsene Wenger as Schneiderlin clearly dominates in passing terms but isn’t too far behind when it comes to winning the ball back.
Do the right thing, Arsene.