With Wenger admitting that he’s looking to buy this January all the red tops are reporting that the Arsenal manager has Lars Bender as his top target this January. It’s an easy call on their part, Wenger has expressed interest in Bender in the past, Arsenal need a player to replace Arteta eventually, and Bender is having a great season. But Bender isn’t the only option out there and here are four examples of players who could be persuaded to join Arsenal this January: Bender, Xhaka, Kychowiak, and Guilavogui.
First, whenever I do these people as “do you have numbers for Carvalho?” and I always answer “no”. No one has numbers for Carvalho because Carvalho plays in the Portuguese league and they aren’t covered by Opta.
There are two numbers that you might want to know about Carvalho: 1) The Sun reported that Arsenal offered £29m for him this summer and 2) he has a release clause of €45m¹. A funny thing is that when Arsenal made that offer, the Euro was worth more and the £28.5m bid was about £9m short of the full release clause. But the Euro has taken a huge hit and €45m is now only worth £31m. I don’t have Carvalho’s numbers but my guess is if Wenger spends £30m on a defensive midfielder he’s going to be certain that the player is top quality.
Also, a note about the players I’ve selected. First, they can’t have been transferred this season. That ruled out a number of top quality DMs like Pedro Mosquera. Second, I didn’t pick any players from top clubs because I assume that teams like PSG and Man City aren’t interested in selling to Arsenal. And third, I picked obvious candidates. I didn’t pick any youth players, or guys who aren’t putting up good numbers but who might have a breakout season. Will a player like Rick Dekker make the jump up from averaging 29 passes a game and 79% completion rate to a team like Arsenal where DMs need to make over 85%? If I had that answer I wouldn’t be sitting here, doing this for free. I’m sure that clubs would pay top sterling for someone who could reliably predict future performance.
The first thing that needs to be said about Lars Bender is that he has a long history of injury. He is currently sidelined with an ankle injury picked up October 29th. He’s also had a history of muscle strains, especially last season. So, while maybe the Daily Mail thinks Bender is Wenger’s top target, I’d be surprised if Arsene wants to gamble on him.
Kychowiak’s injury record is relatively clean. According to Transfermarkt, he’s only missed two games total due to injury.
I should also note that Guilavogui is on loan to Wolfsburg and has been on loan for two seasons. I can’t tell if he’s allowed to be purchased or not so I included his numbers here anyway.
As far as defensive numbers, all these players put up good interceptions numbers. So, they read the game well and play the passing lanes.
Tackling is a bit different. Granit Xhaka’s tackles and fouls numbers are a bit like lemon juice in the eye. The kid is aggressive but doesn’t seem to win the ball much. That meshes with what I’ve seen from him when I’ve seen him play.
That said, his failed tackling numbers largely come from him trying to dispossess opponents who aren’t dribbling. In 1 on 1 duels, he’s a solid tackler who wins 77% of his challenges:
Bender 72% of 7.1 tackles per90
Xhaka 77% of 3 tackles per90
Krychowiak 77% of 3.1 tackles per90
Guilavogui 82% of 3.3 tackles per90
Coquelin 75% of 5.1 tackles per90
Again, these are all solid choices for players. You might be impressed by Bender’s overall numbers but large numbers of tackles mean that the player is either being targeted for lack of pace and/or that his team plays a tackling game.
Xhaka… I feel for you.
Xhaka might be a tad too aggressive in defense but he is an exceptional passer. This season he is completing 78% of his long balls, that’s 9.4/12 per game. PER GAME. Krychowiak’s league numbers (passing) aren’t very good but in Sevilla’s Champions League play, he jumped from 83% to 91%. And his long passing went from just over 50% to 77% 4.6/6 per game. This indicates a player whose league numbers are being dictated by the style of play that Sevilla deploy — I haven’t seen them play but I would guess it’s a counter attacking team.
In terms of possession numbers Xhaka is a bit loose with his play. This is normal for a young player (he just turned 23) but his numbers are still a bit high, about 0.6 more lost possession per90 than our Coquelin.
Honestly, Krychowiak’s dispossessed and turnover numbers are absurdly good. He’s getting the same number of touches as Coquelin and turning the ball over 1 fewer time per90. In the Champions League, he actually got better while his team got worse. He passed 91%, 60 passes a game, and was dispossessed 0.2 and turned the ball over 0.4. That’s the kind of ball protection that you want to see from your DM.
Pick Lars Bender if you want to take a huge gamble on a player who can’t stay healthy. Pick Krychowiak if you want a solid player who doesn’t get injured, who keeps the ball well, and who shows glimpses (in Champions League play) of dynamic passing range. And pick Xhaka² if you think you can develop him into a more aggressive version of Arteta.
I didn’t mention him in any of the sections above but you can see from his numbers that Guilavogui is just all round pretty good. A guy like that, who isn’t especially talented in any one category but also not particularly poor in any category could make a decent backup.
¹Krychowiak also has a €45m release clause.
²Xhaka has a strange release clause in his contract. It’s only €20m. But it’s not active until 2017. I suspect a bid of €40m would get him to the table, but that means Arsenal would *literally* be paying over the odds. Can Wenger do that?