23 April 2014

Are we after Benzema—and should we be?

As the season draws to a close, thoughts start to turn to the summer transfer-window. At a risk of overlooking the fact that we still have to actually clinch fourth place and perhaps win the FA Cup before counting our chickens, we're well aware of our deficiencies and needs going forward and it might be wise to address them, even if only to assuage the more unhinged among us that something is being done. Still, as Ernest Hemingway once put it, "never mistake motion for action." With that in mind, remember that there will always be an insane amount of motion. What we're hoping for, of course, is some decisive action of the sort that will enhance our chances going forward. Does Karim Benzema qualify as motion, then, or action?

We kicked the tires on Benzema this summer before ultimately "settling" for Mesut Özil. I've never been a big fan of his, whether it's the ridiculous haircuts, the rape allegations, the diffidence...that said, there's a scarcity of strikers out there, and, as we all know, Giroud isn't among the best. He's been, at best, serviceable. He's gotten the job done, more often than not, but not often enough. We've gotten by. He's not the problem. as a recent tweet put it, the problem is having only Giroud. Whether Benzema is enough of an upgrade is another question. For one thing, they have been neck-and-neck in the French national team, implying that one is not necessarily more vital than the other, at least on that stage. A quick look at Benzema's stats—32 La Liga appearances, 17 goals, nine assists—look to be a modest improvement over Giroud's—33 Prem appearances , 14 goals, seven assists. Even if Benzema is a more-clinical finisher than Giroud, we have to take into account the more-free scoring nature of La Liga, in which Real Madrid have a +62 goal-differential on the season, and we should remember that Benzema's stats might be a bit inflated.

Speaking of inflated, we might have to offer as much as £50m, if not more, just to get the conversation started. Given our other needs, I'm not sure Benzema's value is worth the cost. While a little in-squad competition can boost each player's performance, I'm not sure we want the soap-opera that might ensure if Giroud and Benzema are competing with each other for playing time at club and country. I can see Giroud taking it like a man and doing his level-best to earn the spot; I'm not as confident that Benzema, having come over from Real Madrid for a transfer-fee roughly four times that of Giroud's, would be as stoic about it. He's been guilty in the past of sulking and of lackadaisical play, behaviors that might come more to the fore if he loses out on a starting spot. It's a role (the starting spot, if not the sulking) he's come to expect at Real Madrid, they of the regular contention for La Liga and Champions League silverware, and he'd likely assume that coming to Arsenal would cement his position as the #1 striker. As the club's newest, high profile signing, no longer second- (or third-) fiddle to Ronaldo and now Bale, he's looking for a promotion, not more competition. He's just now starting to enjoy his increased playing time in Gonzalo Higuain's absence; why leave a good thing for a less-certain one—in terms of playing time for one, and (much as it pains me to admit) in terms of silverware?

Still, the transfer-window is capable of head-slappers and jaw-droppers. Bale to Real Madrid for £100m? Sure. Meymar to Barcelona for £57m and a raft of tax-fraud charges? Why not? Who's to stop Real Madrid from going after Luis Suarez? Now that Barcelona's transfer-ban has been suspended due to their appeal, Real Madrid might be taking a harder look at how to improve their squad, not that they ever need a specific reason as long as Florentino Perez is in charge, and thus might the merry-go-round start. As with their purchase of Bale, they felt a need to sell off other assets (Özil). Should they go after Suarez, Cavani, or someone else, they might again feel the pressure. If Benzema becomes available, though, I still don't feel like we should be going after him unless, like Chelsea or City, we have the ability to acquire players just to keep them out of rivals' hands. We don't.

If we could get Benzema for something in the £20-25m range, I'd say sure. However, that's as unlikely as the scenario I just presented above. Let's wait to see how our season turns out and hope that the rumors regarding Benzema are just that: rumors.