Here is the third of my in-depth analysis of Arsenal’s centre-back targets by Aidan
Being the oldest, most experienced name on this list is a big plus on the surface, considering the exits of Arteta, Rosicky & most likely (should I say ‘hopefully’ or is that harsh?) Flamini- and an apparent glaring need for older heads in the Arsenal dressing room to impart some wisdom to the likes of Iwobi & other emerging youth talents- we don’t want Pennant or Bendtner types coming through our ranks- keep these young’uns grounded!
However, there have been major questions raised regarding Benatia’s own character. After heading for Bayern for €26 million from Roma, he claimed he was disappointed to leave but was told he must go, as the club needed the money. Roma President James Pallotta was seething in response, “Mehdi Benatia has obviously continued with his pattern of outright lies over the last couple of months” … “Lying to Rudi Garcia and his team-mates was completely unacceptable to me.”…. “he was becoming poisonous”…“I am deeply disappointed that one of our players could act this way.” After his move to Bayern, Benatia missed a Champions League game with Benfica with reports suggesting he was meant to be on the plane only for him to turn up without his passport. The Morocco centre-back took to Facebook (He’d fit in with our selfie-lads wouldn’t he?!) to insist he was absent due to injury. He has gone on to say, “Here in Munich I have experienced the two most difficult years in my career” ….. “people invent a new story about me every week. This makes me tired as I have three years contract left in Munich.”
The fact remains that at Roma, Benatia was a top centre back. With Mats Hummels arrival at Bayern, likely knocking him further down the pecking order- he could be available for a steal.
Benatia came through the acclaimed Clairefontaine academy, where places are reserved for the most promising young French-based talents only, our own Thierry Henry is another graduate (as was Anelka, Gallas and the unfortunate Diaby.) Despite that early promise- he was only ever a journeyman in France before moving to Italian side Udinese, aged 23, on a free. It was here Benatia started to live up to his potential. Following 3 steady seasons at Udinese, he moved to Roma in a €13.5 million transfer and was arguably the best defender in the league for them- earning the big money transfer to the German giants.
He’s fairly physically imposing- 6ft 2 and sturdy enough, but is also fairly pacy and agile for a man of that size. His tackling and marking for the Italian side was viewed as top-drawer. After his second season in Munich, Benatia hasn’t been the player he was at Roma. Some of that can be attributed to his fitness- as he has suffered a succession of injuries, however- when he has been fit- Guardiola hasn’t really favoured him anyhow, perhaps down to his limited ability on the ball being incompatible with the possession-focused coach. One of Bayern’s all-time favourite sons Lothar Matthaus has been scathing, “Bayern have been looking for a second Boateng for a number of years now.” … “It is now becoming clear that Benatia is not good enough for Bayern” ….. “They hugely overpaid for him. He is a decent stopper, who is strong in the air and in the duels. But he lacks the technical skills needed for Guardiola’s style of play. He is by no means the quick defender Bayern need under Guardiola.”
This critique does appear to reveal a perception amongst some in football that two ball playing centre-backs CAN form an effective partnership…… or maybe it just discredits Matthaus’s opinion altogether? Is there always smoke where there’s fire? Could he still be worth a punt? He certainly seems like an interesting wildcard option- if he is in a comfortable environment and is mentally focused, he could be a force.
At first glance, Laporte is the paradigm of the ball playing centre-back, “my positon’s most important evolution has been in the sense of being more than a defender. A big part of my game is to bring the ball out from the back. …. “I spend as much time in training and matches working on starting attacks as I do stopping them.”… “I’m usually quite calm in possession, so this helps initiate quicker, more fluid attacks from the back. I also like playing long cross-field passes to change the position of an attack and give us another option.”…. “If you can break up the play cleanly, then you can start an attack much quicker. A slide tackle is almost an admission that you’re out of position. It’s a means to an end, but it’s your last resort.”
I do however retain some hope he could bulk up and adapt his game to partner Koscielny, if we did manage to sign him….. and honestly the prospect gets me feeling all tingly. He is the only left-footer on this list- a plus when partnering a right footer and a rarity. He’s 6 foot 2 so has the required height to become dominant in the air. When he burst on the scene in 2013/14 this was an obvious weakness; with Bilbao often stretched on the counter attack as balls bounced off Laporte’s head, and the youngster relying on his pace to recover from his mistakes. He has worked significantly on this already- 11th most dominant in the air in La Liga 2014/15 (% won) and 1st in La Liga (total aerial duels won). This season he’s improved again, winning an impressive 71.43% of aerial battles. However, there’s a big difference between being an imposing centre back in La Liga & repeating this in the physical Premier League. He is currently out injured with a broken leg and dislocated ankle, picked up for France U21s vs Scotland U21s. He’s said things that hint at having an innate enforcer’s mentality- which he could yet tap into, “I feel so proud when I’m part of a defence that hasn’t been breached. It proves you’ve done the right things in the game and means any victory tastes all the sweeter. If we win 2-1 I’m still happy, but after a clean sheet you can double that feeling.”….. “You need to be powerful to survive. Modern forwards are now as strong as old-style defenders used to be, so you have to be up for the fight.” Would it just end up as Verm/Kos -the sequel though?
Laporte signed a new deal at Athletic last summer that keeps him at the club until 2019 with a €50 million/£39 million release clause. He would not likely leave for less, such is his growing rep. Barca, Real, the Manc clubs & Bayern are all also monitoring him supposedly.
Who fancies either of these two?
Here is the original article with all the statistics for each target (and comparison with ours)