Yossi Benayoun scored his second Premier League goal of the season on Wednesday night as Arsenal beat Wolves 3-0. The 69th minute strike, when the Israeli captain rifled home a pass from Alex Song, had little influence on the match as the Gunners already led 2-0, but it may have helped persuade team boss Arsene Wenger to extend the midfielder’s year-long loan deal from Chelsea.
Benayoun, one of the finest players Israel has ever produced, is entering the later years of his career at almost 32, and the next few weeks may determine whether he continues to star at a big English club or seeks more regular play at a smaller team.
The game at Molineux was only Benayoun’s sixth start of the season and before the game Wenger admitted he had yet to make a decision about the player. Asked when he will decide he said, “That will happen at the end of the season. We have to look at the situation in a global way because we have many players out on loan so we need to deal with these situations.”
But Wenger is well aware of the talismanic influence of Benayoun, who has impressed on his few starts this season during big games like the 5-2 home victory over North London rivals Spurs, and last week’s 1-0 win over Man. City. Benayoun has also come off the bench nine times and scored a vital last minute winner in Arsenal’s 2-1 away win over Aston Villa in December.
Wenger said, “We have to say that in the games he started he did extremely well and the team did extremely well as well. That is never a coincidence. So we have a good balance in the team with him and a good focus. And of course he has quality, Yossi.”
Insiders say that Benayoun is one of the most popular players in the Arsenal squad and is known for his quiet charm and modesty. He has reportedly played a major role off the pitch, boosting morale in a rollercoaster season that saw Arsenal languishing near the relegation zone when the Israeli joined near midnight on August 31, as the transfer window was about to shut. Arsenal have since climbed the table and look set for a third place finish and automatic Champions League qualification.
It is unclear whether Benayoun, whose 32nd birthday is next month, will take part in next season’s Champions league campaign. He is under contract to Chelsea for one more season having joined the Blues from Liverpool in 2010 for £6 million, after three successful years at Anfield and two years before that at West Ham. He missed most of the 2010/11 season after rupturing an Achilles tendon and last summer new Chelsea manager Andres Villas Boas told the Israeli that he was not part of his plans, and thus came the move across London.
Benayoun has been frustrated by his lack of opportunities with Arsenal. When he was last in Israel in February and seeing little first team action, he said, “My inclination at the moment is to sign for a mid-table team and play another two or three years.”
But his stock has since risen, and with Villas Boas fired by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich last month, Benayoun may also find himself back in favor at Stamford Bridge. It is conceivable that the Israeli could be part of a tug-of-war in the summer between two of England’s most illustrious clubs.
However, Wenger is known for his frugality on the transfer market and he is unlikely to be prepared to buy Benayoun from Chelsea, especially given his age. As it is, even on a free transfer Benayoun’s salary cost is close to £4 million per season.
Benayoun, who hails from remote Dimona, began his career with Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Haifa before he moved on to Racing Santander in Spain and then to England. However his future is resolved, the midfield maestro has come a very long way.