15 May 2014

Should Arsenal move for Benzema? £30m feels like a bargain...

After years of seeing us treated as a bit of a feeder-club for others, it's nice to turn the tables, if only once in a while. This week's version has us treating none other than Real Madrid as just that kind of feeder-club. Having passed on Gonzalo Higuaín after Florentino Perez apparently upped the price from £22m to £35m, we flirted also with Ángel Di María before "settling" for Mesut. Along the way, there were rumors of Karim Benzema also making a move to Arsenal, but that never came to pass, but we've now come full-circle with suggestions that we're again after the French striker. Compared to the price-tags attached to others, such as Costa and Cavani, £30m feels like a bargain, and we all know how much Arsène loves to clip coupons and buy on the cheap.

The problem with buying on the cheap, of course, is that you get what you pay for. A quick glance shows that Benzema is a talented, at-times prolific scorer. He's capable of scoring wondrous goals. However, I have my doubts. Last season, sharing time with Higuaín at centre-forward, Benzema delivered 20 goals and 20 assists in 50 appearances across all competitions. This season, playing as the out-and-out first-choice centre-forward, he's upped his tally to 24 goals and 14 assists in 50 appearances. In other words, while playing for a free-scoring Real Madrid and benefitting from the departure of Higuaín, Benzema accounted for a lower percentage of Real Madrid's goals than he did last season. One might have a right to expect the opposite to happen, and one would be correct.

At times, he can be a dynamic, game-changing player. If he can be had for £25-30m, that's hard to pass up. After all, the going rate for a season-changing player looks to be double-that. The question then becomes whether or not Benzema is a game-changing or a season-changing kind of player. The balance of evidence suggests that it's the former more than the latter. Real Madrid looks like they'll finish third in La Liga, their lowest finish since, well, ever, and this is despite Ronaldo and Bale having banner-years. At some level, then, it feels like Benzema has failed to pick up the slack left by Higuaín's departure. Higuaín, in his last season at Real Madrid, managed to bag 18 goals and nine assists. Benzema has failed to fill the void that Higuaín's departure created. Even while playing for a club that dominates opponents as thoroughly as Real Madrid does, Benzema has not delivered.

At the national level, Benzema has had to worry about competing with none other than Olivier Giroud. Indeed, at times, it has looked like Giroud has gotten the upper hand. While there doesn't seem to be much evidence of a rift in the rivalry, it's hard to imagine the two of them creating positive chemistry while competing for time on the pitch for club and country. It's not that Benzema would create a toxic atmosphere should we sign him only to see him struggle to supersede Giroud, but why commit so much money to a player who offers only a modest upgrade over what we currently have. Giroud, after all, has now gone for 22 goals and nine assists in his 36 Prem all appearances. Yes, we need an upgrade on, or at least an alternative to, Giroud. I'm just not sure that Benzema is that upgrade. An alternative? Yes.

Whether an alternative will be enough for us to close the gap on Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City is another question. It's unlikely that any of them will stand by, twiddling their thumbs. Therefore, our apparent interest in Benzema is intrigues me without inspiring me.

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