How is this for an unintended consequence? If Gareth Bale does end up at Real Madrid, the Spanish giants will have an even greater excess of attackers, one that could leave Karim Benzema as their odd man out.
And if a prominent French player is available, you know who’s going to be linked: Arsenal.
Though the French international is ostensibly the only number nine in Carlo Ancelotti’s squad, the new Merengues boss has been thought willing to go with a false nine up top. That could mean Cristiano Ronaldo, who spent a good deal of time behind the striker this weekend, finding a more permanent home through the middle. That could also mean the to-be-acquired Bale assuming a role not unlike the one he placed near the end of last season for Spurs.
But most importantly for the balance of power in North London, it could mean Benzema’s available. With a $62 million evaluation, his purchase would crush Arsenal’s $23.4 million record, but given Arsène Wenger’s love for a good French talent and Benzema’s potential fit in the Gunners’ 4-2-3-1 system, a lot of stars seems to be aligning around a North London move for the Real Madrid attacker.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to change the tune of those yelling from the stands, demanding Arsenal finally spend big.
Because he hasn’t truly broken through at Real Madrid, it seems like Benzema just recently arrived from Lyon, but the the 25-year-old just began his fifth season with Los Blancos. On Sunday, he recorded the first goal in their 2-1 win over Real Betis. In 184 all-competition appearances, Benzema’s scored 88 times and registered 49 assists, yet he never truly won the No. 9’s role from Gonzalo Higuaín. Even with Higuaín having moved on to Napoli, Benzema isn’t assured of a job.
Of course, any mention of Higuaín in a story about Arsenal obliges us to mention: The Gunners missed out on the Argentine international earlier this summer. The team’s attention was eventually (and fruitlessly) drawn to Luis Suárez, and Napoli swooped. It’d be a strange twist if Arsenal ended up with Higuaín’s platoon partner (at a price that would have gotten Higuaín) after losing out earlier this summer.
Whether Benzema is worth $62 million (no) or if he’s much of an upgrade on Olivier Giroud (yes) now come into focus, as will the Gunners’ strength relative to Tottenham, should they get their target. Ultimately, this is all about holding on to fourth place.
Then again, given this is Arsenal, we probably shouldn’t take anything for granted. Benzema’s not a Gunner, yet.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.