Why talk of Arsenal signing Karim Benzema remains a pipe dream
Paul McNamara examines the relentless speculation linking Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema with a move to Arsenal
The source of the quote is a point of contention, but it is etched into popular consciousness today that the two things certain in life are death and taxes.
It is probably now safe to add a third truism to the original suggestion, commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin: Every time the European transfer window is open, Arsenal will be linked with a bid for Karim Benzema.
If, however, there is any veracity in the rumours that persistently have the north London club and the French international striker making eyes at each other, then it would be perfectly understandable.
A number of factors have held Arsene Wenger’s team back from challenging for Premier League and European honours for the best part of a decade. An inability to compete in the market following their relocation to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, and the consequent desire of Gunners players with silverware winning ambitions to move elsewhere, inevitably manifested in a side with shortcomings across the pitch.
But, even as Wenger and his club are emerging from their temporarily parsimonious existence and with Arsenal apparently on the brink of re-joining the battle at the top of the Premier League, the Gunners’ on-going deficiencies are an open-secret.
This is a team chock-full with sharp-witted, vibrant performers, capable on their day of slicing through almost any opposition. And those days, in fairness, are steadily becoming more and more frequent. The acquisition this summer of goalkeeper Petr Cech, allied to the unexpected late-blooming in their midfield of Francis Coquelin last season, have afforded the 2004 title winners a more steely backbone than has been typical for a number of years.
If they are to give Chelsea and Manchester United et al a real run for their money in this forthcoming campaign, though, then Arsenal’s spine will still need firming up.
Yet, it is in their frontline that the FA Cup holders are sorely lacking, certainly when compared to the teams that they aspire to compete with.
What better way to address that particular problem than by recruiting one of the world’s finest practitioners of the striking art, in Benzema? Encouragingly, from an Arsenal standpoint, there is a nagging suspicion that the 27-year-old is not regarded as highly as he might be at The Bernabeu.
It should be beyond the realms of possibility to wrench from the clutches of the mega-rich 2014 European champions and 32-time Spanish league winners, their first-choice centre-forward. At Real Madrid, however, normal rules don’t apply. This is the club, after all, that considered Angel Di Maria to be dispensable, three months after the Argentinian’s man-of-the-match display against Atletico Madrid as Los Blancos clinched that Champions League crown last year.
Like his former team-mate Di Maria, Benzema, despite his significant deeds in the famous white shirt, doesn’t quite fit the Galactico billing of so many of his Real contemporaries. This would perhaps explain why Wenger might believe he could persuade the former Lyon man that his worth would not be taken for granted in similar style, should he switch to The Emirates.
Correspondingly, it is conceivable that the player would be tempted by the prospect of being one of the main-men in a new environment. If he brought to Arsenal the cutting-edge that they have been longing for since the day Thierry Henry left in 2007, then Benzema would be lauded as a hero, in a manner that is never going to be possible when you count Cristiano Ronaldo as a colleague.
The self-assured Portuguese, though, would be quick to acknowledge Benzema’s role in his near super-human feats in the Spanish capital, since the pair arrived at Real together in the summer of 2009. It is his intelligent movement, strength and vision that have proved the perfect foil for Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Di Maria and others, which will make Wenger covet Benzema’s services, as much as the forward’s own pretty consistent goal every other game return.
Watching the 76-capped player in action, it is easy to conclude that he is a striker with plenty of strings to his bow. That opinion is backed up by statistics: In the six years he has been operating in La Liga, only Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have played a direct part in more league goals than Benzema’s 132.
With the rapier-like Theo Walcott and pass-master Santi Cazorla having penned fresh deals with the Gunners this week, one can imagine Wenger salivating at the thought of Benzema dovetailing with that pair; cannily leaving space for Walcott to drive into, or latching onto one of Cazorla’s sublime threaded through-balls. That’s before considering what the Frenchman could produce with the service he would be provided by Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and his former Real team-mate, Mesut Ozil, at The Emirates.
Walcott was the man handed front-running duties for Sunday’s Community Shield clash with Chelsea, in preference to Olivier Giroud. Benzema’s compatriot has represented something of a conundrum for Gunners’ fans in his three years in north London. The ex-Montpellier man actually shares many of Benzema’s all-round attributes – but without attaining the same level in his execution of any of them.
Wenger’s faith in Giroud possibly ebbed a touch when the striker reserved one of his poorer displays last season for Arsenal’s Champions League knock-out first-leg tie with Monaco, albeit the 28 year-old wasn’t alone in that flaw on a miserable night, when his side were beaten 3-1 by the French outfit.
It is unlikely that Benzema would shrink on such a big occasion. Perhaps with that in mind, former Gunner Martin Keown this week presented the case for Wenger to pay whatever it takes to get hold of the Real forward; reasoning that such a signing would ‘send a ripple through the dressing room,’ not to mention making Arsenal a more intimidating force in the eyes of opponents.
Without question, if they could prise Benzema from the Spanish giants, the Gunners would finally have a forward to rival Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney, the men who will spearhead the attacks of the teams they hope to go toe-to-toe with at the Premier League’s summit.
Nevertheless, for now, Benzema to Arsenal is as much of a pipe dream as it is a story that fills vast column inches every year. In fact, a man as pragmatic as Real’s latest boss, Rafael Benitez, can be expected to do everything in his power to resist any suggestions that he can do without his precious centre-forward.
Everything about Karim Benzema to Arsenal sounds right, but it is unlikely to happen, yet.