N’Golo Kanté has had a superb first season for Leicester City, the ever-beating heart of a midfield which has won the league.
The Frenchman has truly embodied the spirit, the work ethic and the intelligence of Claudio Ranieri’s side; a key cog of the side that has won the league against the longest odds in sporting history.
Naturally, it has clubs after him. French giants PSG have reportedly spoken to the player’s representatives about the possibility of signing him – he has a €25m release clause – only to be told he likes it in England.
Though the Foxes have won the Premier League, there are of course bigger clubs with more money and more ambition on theses shores.
Arsenal are being strongly linked with a move for the 25-year-old by a number of French outlets. RMC even claim that a number of meetings have taken place between Arsène Wenger’s and Kanté’s representatives with the Gunners hopeful to learn how interested he is in a move to north London.
Chelsea and Manchester City are allegedly interested too.
You don’t attract this interest without performing well. Kanté’s boundless energy has been terrific all season long.
No player in England wins the ball more often than the Frenchman, be it through tackling or through intercepting. Then, when on the ball, Kanté charges forward at speed, making the most of his mobility in attacking transitions as well as defensive ones.
Leicester have built around this for the majority of the season (Kanté played wide at the beginning of the campaign), using a compact defence and rapid counter-attacking game after luring the opposition in or forcing them to have the ball.
And that, quite simply, is why signing Kanté would be a weird move for Arsenal.
The Gunners have generally been fine in big fixtures, which is the only time they spend in their own half with the opportunity to counter-attack. Kanté’s game relies on counter-attacking football, on winning the ball with a strong organised midfield and launching breaks at speed.
What could he bring to Arsenal?
He’d certainly add a bite to our midfield. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny are currently our most viable options in the middle of the park.
Coquelin is positionally disciplined and hunts possession relentlessly but becomes a spare part in possession.
With Elneny, there’s a concern that he could be too much of a box-to-box player to really fix the issues in Arsenal’s midfield.
Kanté? He’s Coquelin’s defensive work-rate with Elneny’s incredible energy and drive. It’s just not something Arsenal need.
The Gunners have dropped most of their points this season, be it home or away, when having a lot of the ball but being incapable of breaking the opposition down. Sides respect Arsenal and you can’t just not keep the ball and sit back, you have to take the initiative. Right now, Wenger’s team take the ball but have no initiative.
Kanté would certainly add energy but he wouldn’t add the calm or thoughtful passing game that’s needed in the middle of the pitch. If you’re convinced he’s a big upgrade on Elneny or Aaron Ramsey that’s one thing, but he can’t (and doesn’t) pass like those players.
Should he replace Coquelin, it would leave Arsenal with another adventurous player at the base of midfield; hardly a solution to our current issues. Moreover, with Arsenal lacking the solid structure Leicester base their play on, he’d have far more space to marshal and almost certainly wouldn’t offer the same defensive performances he’s managed under Ranieri.
Arsène Wenger’s side is screaming out for a considered holding midfielder, one who is as intelligent and influential with the ball as he is without it. Kanté is a tenacious cavalier in the middle of the park and that just won’t do.