More seriously, now that the fixtures have settled down just a bit, we can peer through the dust and the wreckage and figure out just what's next. Yes, we have a few more fixtures to plow through, including the addition of an FA Cup fifth round tie against Brighton and Hove Albion, but we've at least got breathing space enough to consider just where Arsène might splash a bit of cash. One name, that hasn't quite been on everyone's tongues for a while, is that of Lars Bender. At a risk of invoking Wenger's Law, he might be worth a quick kick of the tires.
To be clear, I'm not indulging in any flights of fancy. Bender wouldn't be easy to prize away from Bayer Leverkusen. Then again, some of us are drooling after Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin, who
(a) threw a hissy-fit after being denied a chance to join Tottenham, and
(b) currently plays for a club just a few points above us on the table.
Anyone thinking that we're securing Schneiderlin anytime soon should contact me with their banking information, as I have a unique investment scheme that I hope they'll invest. In other words, the chances of Schneiderlin leaving Southampton amount to two: slim and none. As much as it might indulge our spite-tooth to sign him, we'll have to find ways of overtaking Southampton other than signing away their best players. Liverpool went that route, and let’s let them walk alone on that.
Will Bayer part with Bender?
Looking at Bayer, it's similarly hard to see why they might part with Bender. They're currently third in the Bundesliga, albeit a distant third, 17 points behind Bayern, and they've advanced to the Champions League knockout phase, drawn against Atletico Madrid, who are celebrating the return of Fernando Torres. In this light, it's difficult at best to see the likes of Bender depart. After all, he's been central to Bayer's success thus far.
However, there are rivals to consider. Nipping at Bayer's heels in the Bundesliga is one Borussia Mönchengladbach, who might owe just as much of their success to a young defensive midfielder as Bayer does to Bender. In this case, we're talking of Christoph Kramer, on loan from Bayer to Mönchengladbach. If he could be recalled to Bayer, well, that might be sweet and dandy like sour candy as it would sap a rival of a key player for the Bundesliga's run-in.
Kramer is widely seen as one of the rising stars of German football, and depriving Mönchengladbach of his services might go a long way towards ensuring that Bayer finish towards the top of the Bundesliga. Could Bayer, who own both Bender and Kramer, pull off a move where they recall Kramer and sell us Bender? Crazier things have happened.
Is Bender the answer for Arsenal’s midfield?
As for us, I hope we'll all agree that, on our list of priorities, shoring up the defense has to be at or near the top of the list. As of this writing, we've dropped as many as 12 points in the Premier League, enough to restore us to somewhere in the top two or three. That's not all—we took a lead over Southampton in the League Cup only to lose, for what that's worth, and there is of course the infamous 3-3 draw with Anderlecht, in which we went up 3-0 only to concede three to drop two precious points—enough to see us win the group. That we drew AS Monaco anyway is small consolation.
We do tolerably well at finding a lead, but we're abysmal at keeping it. Perhaps worse, we often concede early and have to fight back. On eleven occasions—eleven—we've found a goal in extra time to steal a point, if not three. While that's dramatic and inspiring and all, I'd rather we put a few matches to bed a bit earlier if it's all the same.
If we could add a defensive midfielder of Bender's quality to the squad, it would go a long way towards stabilizing and even strengthening our chances in the second half of the season. I'm not one to hope for negative results as a method for achieving positive ends, but for as much as the loss to Southampton may have closed the door on Schneiderlin joining Arsenal, we can hope that it may have opened the door for Bender.
What do you think? Would £20m be a tolerable transfer fee for the services of a player like Bender, or should we focus on other, higher-profile players like Schneiderlin, Cavani, or Carvalho?