By George Ankers
It has been a move long in the offing but Arsenal are at last ready to make a concerted push to sign Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton this summer.
With Chelsea moving ahead in the race to capture Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira – a move that would make a great deal more sense for the German than the Gunners – Arsene Wenger has turned to a long-term target as the north Londoners make a preliminary approach.
While there will have to be some haggling involved – Arsenal see Schneiderlin as worth around £15 million while the Saints want at least £18m and are in a position to play hardball after other huge sales this summer – the France international is keen to look for his next challenge and the Emirates Stadium is the ideal place for him to flourish.
Arsenal’s need for an imposing defensive midfielder has been hanging over them for so long that it has become something of a standing joke but the Southampton star offers an engine-room presence that Wenger’s men have lacked since Gilberto Silva’s heyday.
Saintly | Schneiderlin has impressed hugely in Southampton's midfield
With the trust and freedom to develop in the first team throughout the Saints’ run from League One to the top half of the Premier League, Schneiderlin has become a fearsome defensive beast and is entering his prime at 24 years old.
Only two Premier League midfielders made more than his 113 tackles in 2013-14, while he was in the top 10 midfielders for duels won (213) and interceptions (68). His 215 recoveries put him joint-12th.
Indeed, over the past two Premier League seasons, no player has had a higher combined total of tackles and interceptions than Schneiderlin’s 466.
Not only exceptional at winning back the ball, the ex-Strasbourg man is also adept at passing it on. He completed 1726 passes in the league last term with an accuracy of 89.34 per cent – and his range of passes has steadily improved since Saints returned to the top flight.
If, as seems ideal, he were next to Aaron Ramsey in central midfield, the 24-year-old would be comfortable feeding his partner whether or not the Welshman had started his advance into a more attacking position.
There is also plenty of room to be flexible in how Wenger would integrate Schneiderlin into the team. Mikel Arteta has only one year left on his contract at the Emirates Stadium but has been a pivotal part of the team and would likely not be completely jettisoned straight away – plus Arsenal’s record with injuries suggests that they will need options in every position.
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But the France international’s experience of playing alongside Jack Cork at Southampton should stand him in good stead to work with Arteta when needed. Like the Spaniard, Cork is the type to receive the ball from deep and pass out calmly, which often gave Schneiderlin the freedom to push out and win the ball aggressively further up the pitch. He also comes with experience of playing in both a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formation.
Coming from Southampton, Schneiderlin should be prepared for a battle to establish himself at Champions League level, which makes him not only the right talent to replace Arteta in the long term but also the right head to accept some rotation as Wenger makes the transition.
After years of excellence at St Mary’s Stadium, Schneiderlin would be a more than worthy buy even at £18m. He is the player for whom Arsenal have craved for years.
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