Had Sander Berge been available for more than 15 Premier League games this season, Sheffield United might have fared a little better.
As it is, the rock-bottom Blades were condemned to relegation to the Championship weeks ago — but their Norwegian star may be staying in the top flight a little longer.
The towering midfielder is reportedly attracting interest from Arsenal, who have endured a disappointing campaign themselves under Mikel Arteta.
As the Gunners prepare for a trip to Crystal Palace tonight, we turn the spotlight on how Berge could fit in at the Emirates.
A notable absentee
Berge, 23, was a key component of Chris Wilder’s highly effective team in the second half of last term — but his absence for large periods this season has been keenly felt at Bramall Lane.
The former Genk man has been plagued by injuries, missing crucial games during the club’s ultimately futile relegation fight.
However, his talent was on full display last season and bigger clubs clearly took note, with the Gunners reportedly rivalled by Everton in the hunt for his services.
An offer of £35million would meet Berge’s release clause, which dropped from £45m when relegation was confirmed.
With uncertainty over the future of Dani Ceballos and question marks surrounding Arteta’s best options in midfield, it is unsurprising Arsenal have their eye on the Sheffield United No8 at such a reasonable price.
He would add power, grace and a directness in the centre of the pitch — something arguably lacking in Arteta’s current squad.
More to come
Berge may already have made a positive impression in the Premier League but Arteta will believe the Norway international can take his game to the next level at the Emirates.
Genk’s sporting director Dimitri de Conde is of a similar mind and spoke about Berge’s potential last year.
He said: “Sander’s strongest position is deeper, as the No6, in front of the defence. It is the position where we saw the best from Sander.
“What I can say is Sander will be a success in the Premier League. There is much, much more to see from him.”
Given the importance of Oliver Norwood to Sheffield United last season, Berge was often utilised in a more advanced role.
But that only highlighted his versatility. At such a relatively young age still, a player with his attributes could be moulded and influenced depending on the style of his team.
The most immediately notable thing about Berge is his height — he stands at 6ft 5in and would certainly add presence to the Arsenal midfield.
But he is surprisingly elegant with the ball at his feet and should have no issues adjusting to a more possession-based style of play.
If Arsenal were to bring Berge in, Arteta would have some decisions to make.
Thomas Partey was signed to play the holding role in front of the defence and Mohamed Elneny generally sits deeper as well.
Then there is the aforementioned Ceballos to consider, as well as Granit Xhaka.
Fitting all of these players in would be impossible, so Berge’s arrival would likely depend on the exits of one or two others.
Ceballos is still contracted to Real Madrid, while Xhaka and Elneny are approaching an age where their values will start to decline.
There is no doubt that it is an area of the pitch Arsenal need to freshen up.
Arsenal assistant manager Albert Stuivenberg has previous experience with Berge, having worked with him at Genk.
It could be his comments that persuade the club’s higher-ups to make a move.
Stuivenberg said: “He is already very mature. He is intelligent, reads the game well and takes the initiative. He has the potential to become a future leader.”
Arteta may well already be hoping Berge is the man to lead Arsenal back into the top four and transform the team’s fortunes next season.