The final part of Arsenal's summer redesign is due to be completed today with the arrival of Nuri Sahin on loan from Real Madrid.
The 23-year-old midfielder – a Turkey international born in Germany who made his name with home-town club Borussia Dortmund – has struggled to impose himself at the Bernabeu since arriving last summer. But as he makes the opposite journey from Alex Song, exchanging Spain for England, Arsenal will endure no loss of class.
Replacing the Cameroon international with Sahin should mean a more stylish Arsenal side this season. Song was only nominally a defensive midfielder, able to push opponents off the ball with a shrug of his broad shoulders, but not always astute enough to stay close to them. Some of his best contributions at Arsenal, especially in recent seasons, were moments of quick flashes of inspiration.
But Sahin is different. He is an orchestrator, stitching the patterns of play from the heart of the midfield. He is much more authoritative than Song, happier to show for the ball and take responsibility for starting attacks. His passing, over long and short distances, is exceptional. He knows when to retain possession and when to risk it in pursuit of goals. Sahin's approach might be best described as Spanish, in terms of his care of the ball and imagination with it. He is not dissimilar from his new team-mates Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, and they should be able to strike up the natural combinations which intelligent footballers can find in one another.
Although Sahin plays for Turkey due to his parents' heritage, he is German by birth, and has his football roots in the Bundesliga. Born in Lüdenscheid, he came through the ranks at Dortmund and became the youngest player ever to play in the German top flight before his 17th birthday in 2005.
He soon became a regular in midfield, before announcing himself as one of Europe's finest emerging talents in 2010/11 as Dortmund won their first title in nine years. Sahin contributed six goals and eight assists, and was rewarded with the German player of the season awards by both Kicker magazine and the German players' union. That was good enough to earn a move to Real Madrid on a six-year deal last summer, leaving Dortmund wondering how to replace him.
"Sahin exploded during 2010/11," German football journalist Ben Gladwell told The Independent. "So much so that the main question asked after his sale was how Dortmund would be able to defend their title without their key player, similar to questions now about Shinji Kagawa [who has recently joined Manchester United]."
Unfortunately at Madrid Sahin's route has been blocked by many assured midfielders – not least Mesut Ozil, of similar approach, heritage and age. "His style is like Ozil and, ironically, it is probably him keeping him out at Real," added Gladwell. "He's very technically gifted and plays the same position just behind the strikers or out wide, liking the ball at his feet and with a perpetual engine. He goes to get the ball rather than waiting for it to arrive. His goalscoring record is similar to Ozil's too and he probably should be getting more than he does, but creating goals is his real forte."
Real manager Jose Mourinho admitted recently that competition for places was driving Sahin out. "He's a young boy, he wants to play every match," Mourinho said. "In Real Madrid, the situation is not easy. When you don't start well, it is difficult to do it."
Perhaps it was just not the right time for him to establish himself there. But now at a team short of midfielders, who prioritise possession and are desperate to improve, he might have found his perfect place.
Sahin in numbers
31 Times Sahin has played for Turkey.
4 Appearances Sahin made in La Liga for Real Madrid last season.
£8m His transfer fee from Dortmund to Real Madrid in May 2011.
16 Age when he made his league debut for Borussia Dortmund.
2010-11 Season he was voted the Bundesliga's player of the year.
Barcelona confirm Song deal
Alex Song yesterday completed his £15million move to Barcelona from Arsenal. The 24-year-old Cameroon international signed a five-year contract which included a buy-out clause of €80m (£63m).Reuse content