To the relief of their fans, Arsenal look to be attempting to get their summer business done early this year. They have already completed the signing of Alexis Sanchez, and the arrival of Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle is expected to be announced in the coming days.
They are still after a goalkeeper to replace Lukasz Fabianski, and they may need a centre-back if Thomas Vermaelen leaves, but Arsene Wenger’s priority now is to recruit a new defensive midfielder.
Mikel Arteta has performed admirably since joining from Everton, but he is 32 now and only has a year left on his contract. Mathieu Flamini is an able deputy, but the club need an upgrade if they want to make the leap from fourth to first.
Their standout player last season was Aaron Ramsey. The 23-year-old’s all-round game has always been impressive, but last season he added goals, and lots of them, to his armoury. He scored 16 goals in all competitions, and there’s a compelling argument that Arsenal’s title challenge wouldn’t have ended so meekly if he hadn’t missed most of the second half of the campaign.
Ramsey was deservedly named the club’s Player of the Season, and his stunning form makes him a certain starter for Arsenal next season, which means the club are looking for a midfielder to play alongside the Welshman.
The likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Lars Bender have been linked with a move to the Emirates this summer, but it seems that Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira is now the club’s top target, and Arsenal are reportedly prepared to make him their highest-paid player with a deal worth £8 million-a-year. While reports today suggest that Arsenal have agreed a fee for Khedira.
Khedira’s quality is obvious, and his adaptation to life in England would be eased by the presence of Germany teammates Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski at Arsenal. However, he plays best as a box-to-box midfielder, rather than as a holding player.
Ramsey is also a box-to-box player, and arguably the best in the Premier League in that role, so would the two players be compatible as a midfield partnership?
At Real Madrid Khedira has tended to play alongside Xabi Alonso, and the Spaniard’s commanding presence allows Khedira the freedom to join the attack and make late runs into the box.
Khedira’s an all-action player, and he’s constantly on the move. At Arsenal though, he would have to curb some of his natural tendencies to play in a midfield pair alongside Ramsey.
Arteta was Arsene Wenger’s first-choice partner for the Welsh midfielder last season, and he is rarely seen anywhere near the opposition penalty area. He provides the foundation for Arsenal’s attacking players, including Ramsey, to flourish. He keeps the ball moving and stretches opponents by keeping his passing relatively simple, and he is on hand to prevent counter-attacks.
While playing for Germany at the World Cup, Khedira has shown he can play in a more disciplined role. He started the tournament alongside Philipp Lahm in midfield, which allowed him to play his usual game. However, Lahm was moved to right-back during the second round game against Algeria, and has stayed there since.
That means Khedira has played alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger, and he has held his position more than he would have to at club level. He does still venture forward, but it was noticeable that he was much more restrained in the quarter-final against France.
He was very impressive in the semi-final against Brazil in an attacking sense, scoring one goal and creating another, but Brazil completely froze on the big stage, and it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from that freak result.
A worrying aspect of his displays at the World Cup is that he has yet to win a single tackle, failing with all 13 of his attempts. In La Liga last season he won 0.84 tackles per 90, a long way behind Arteta’s rate of 2.62.
The stats suggest he wouldn’t recycle possession as well as Arteta either, he plays less passes per 90 than the experienced Spaniard, and his passing is less accurate.
As Arsenal are an attacking side, it’s important for Ramsey’s partner to be able to cut out danger to prevent the defence from being exposed, and Arteta also makes more interceptions than Khedira.
Ramsey doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for his defensive contribution, but he made 2.83 tackles per game last season – of all players to appear in more than five Premier League games, only Claudio Yacob made more with 3.11. The Welsh midfielder is also an incredible athlete, and he covers huge distances during matches.
In theory, the two could perform well together. They are both intelligent players, and while one breaks forward, the other would hold their position, and both have the necessary stamina to run up and down the pitch for 90 minutes.
It appears that Khedira’s arrival would compromise Ramsey’s role though. Ramsey was the best player in England during the first few months of last season, and while he can help out defensively, he is clearly an attacking midfielder.
Unless Khedira drastically changes his game, Ramsey would have to focus much more on his defensive positioning. A key feature of Arsenal’s game last season was Mesut Ozil picking out Ramsey’s runs beyond Olivier Giroud, and it would be a huge shame if that was sacrificed.
Khedira would be a very good alternative to Ramsey in the box-to-box position, but there is little to suggest Khedira would be as effective as Mikel Arteta in the vital defensive role in Arsenal’s midfield, and Arsene Wenger may well be better off buying a specialist like Lars Bender or Morgan Schneiderlin.
Related Teams: Arsenal