Should Arsenal splash the cash on Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan?
After lifting the FA Cup and confirming that he’ll sign a new deal to stay at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger has a hugely important summer ahead of him.
The Frenchman will reportedly be handed a transfer kitty of up to £100million to strengthen his squad and ensure that his side don’t slip from top spot to fourth place as they did so spectacularly last season.
Wenger is keen to add to his attacking options after relying heavily on Olivier Giroud for goals over the last 10 months, but that’s not the only area he needs to improve upon.
With Bacary Sagna and Lukasz Fabianski almost certain to leave Arsenal on a free transfers at the end of their contracts, the 64-year-old will need also need to recruit a right-back and a goalkeeper before the transfer window closes on September 1.
Central midfield is arguably the Gunners’ strongest position but, with Mikel Arteta having recently turned 32 and Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere both suffering long-term injuries last season, signing another talented player for the heart of midfield may well be a wise move.
If recent stories are to be believed, Wenger is focused on bringing one of three defensively-minded midfielders to the club to compete with Mathieu Flamini. Ilkay Gundogan, Lars Bender and Morgan Schneiderlin are the reported names on Arsenal’s summer wishlist.
After signing a new contract with Borussia Dortmund in April, Gundogan would appear to be the least realistic of Wenger’s targets. He might also be the most natural fit at the Emirates.
The 23-year-old made just one Bundesliga appearance for Jurgen Klopp’s side last season after suffering nerve damage in his back during Germany’s 3-3 draw with Paraguay in mid-August. Despite his lack of playing time over the past 12 months, the versatile midfielder has no shortage of suitors.
European giants Real Madrid and Manchester United have both been credited with an interest in Gundogan, which is unsurprising given his prominence in Dortmund’s impressive 2012/13 campaign.
The former Nuremberg star made 28 top-flight appearances for the Black and Yellows as they finished second in the table behind rivals Bayern Munich. He also played his part in Klopp’s side reaching the Champions League final at Wembley, where they again finished second best to Germany’s most decorated club.
Where Bender and Schneiderlin focus on breaking down opposition attacks while sat in front of their respective defences, Gundogan is a tough tackler who loves to pick a pass and play the ball quickly and precisely. He is more of a distributor than a traditional defensive midfielder, but still has the positional sense and physical attributes to protect his back-four.
The ex-Bochum youngster completed 86% of his passes the season before last – the best return of any regular Dortmund first-team player – and managed almost 59 successful passes for every 90 minutes he spent on the pitch. Both statistics suggest that Gundogan has the style of game which should lend itself to Wenger’s passing philosophy.
Despite his defensive responsibilities, Gundogan’s fitness levels allow him to contribute effectively at both ends of the pitch. In the same season he managed to get himself on the scoresheet three times – the joint third highest return of any Dortmund player – and create 18 chances, three of which were converted by his team-mates. His shooting accuracy of 41% was worse than Flamini’s 50% last term, but he averages over a shot more every two games than the Frenchman.
The attacking elements of Gundogan’s game stem from his time spent at Nuremberg, where he was often deployed further up the pitch. Although he has developed into a deep-lying midfielder, the German international is still remarkably comfortably running with the ball at his feet, completing 58 of his 83 take-ons in 2012/13 – more than any other player in Klopp’s squad.
Although he stands at less than six feet tall, Gundogan is tenacious and not afraid to mix it with bigger opponents. His height puts him at a disadvantage in aerial duels – he won just 39% of headers in the season before his serious back injury – but he enjoys a tackle, winning 51 of his 120 attempts in just 26 league starts.
Gundogan is not a stereotypical defensive midfielder. He’ll burst forward, take on opponents, shoot from long-range and look to play a killer pass when the opportunity arises.
If Wenger wants a player who will sit in front of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny and provide them with expert cover, then Gundogan may not be the right man for the job. But if he’s after an upgrade on Arteta and a more incisive passer than Flamini, Dortmund’s all-rounder could be an excellent acquisition.