With a fit and highly-effective Francis Coquelin at his disposal, deflecting criticisms for not signing another quality defensive midfielder has been easy for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, but not anymore.
The midfield linchpin is out of action until mid-February while he recovers from a knee ligament injury, exposing a weakness in the Gunners’ squad and leading to reports that Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender could be the preferred solution.
Italian football website Calciomercato place Leverkusen’s skipper at the top of a January shopping list to replace the stricken Coquelin at the base of Arsenal’s midfield.
It would not be the first time the 26 year-old Germany international has been linked to a potential Emirates move, but before now Wenger’s faith in Coquelin had largely negated the need to pursue Bender seriously.
Circumstances dictate otherwise now, with Arsenal desperate to keep a concerted Premier League challenge going throughout the season, having slid down to fourth in the table after defeat to West Brom.
The current list of deputies to replace Coquelin on the Emirates club’s books are probably sub standard where this 7/4-rated mission is concerned.
Mikel Arteta has struggled to maintain fitness and alongside Mathieu Flamini is probably past his best days in an Arsenal shirt.
Jack Wilshere is thought to be nearing a return after another lengthy spell on the sidelines, but even if he can keep his fitness demons at bay, Wenger has always been reluctant to curtail the Englishman’s attacking threat as his deep-lying option.
This viewpoint is strangely at loggerheads with England manager Roy Hodgson who was arguably squeezing Wilshere’s best international form out of him at the base of his diamond midfield prior to the latest setback.
Bender would bring a genuine international pedigree to north London, but prising him away from his leading role at Leverkusen will not be easy, especially as the German would be cup tied should the Gunners scrape through into the Champions League knockout stages.
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