A year and a half ago, Arsenal tried to bring Riyad Mahrez to the Emirates. Is it now time for Arsène Wenger to have another go at signing the Algerian?
In the summer of 2016, Mahrez had just helped fire Leicester to the Premier League title.
He scored 17 goals and assisted another 10 during that league campaign, and caught Wenger’s eye.
Dick Law spoke to Mahrez about a move, and his representatives were in contact with Wenger. The 26-year-old says he was “50-50” about leaving, and that potential transfer to Arsenal is still the closest he’s come to moving on.
But, in the end, the winger stayed with Leicester.
He had a much more subdued 2016/17 season, and the Gunners didn’t go back for him this summer. Wenger explained why in August, saying, “We were never close [to a deal]. I rate him as a player but we have similar types with Alex Iwobi, Mesut Özil and now Jack Wilshere back. We have plenty of the same type of player.”
I’d argue that the subsequent few months have proven that statement wrong.
Mahrez provides goal threat that none of those three can match. He’s scored seven goals this season, which is one more than Özil, Iwobi and Wilshere combined. Plus, now that the German has moved back into the middle, and Wilshere is playing even deeper, there’s a space in the team.
Right now, Iwobi is playing on the right, but I always thought he was more effective on the left.
That half-a-season in 2016/17 when Alexis Sanchez was up front with Theo Walcott and Iwobi on either side of him got the best out of all three. Plus Sanchez will be off in one of the next two windows. When he leaves, Özil, Iwobi, Mahrez and Wilshere could all fit in the team at once.
If you wanted them to.
Other than being goal threat, Mahrez also provides creativity and an ability to beat a man.
He has six assists this season, including one against Arsenal and one against Manchester United. Plus, he completes more take-ons per 90 minutes than any of the Gunners’ current wide options.
All of that is exactly what I’d say Arsenal need in a wide man at the moment.
Iwobi retains possession well, but he’s not getting on the scoresheet, or assisting others. Welbeck and Walcott can score, but they’re behind in the other aspects.
Sanchez was the right kind of player at his best, but his best seems to be behind him, or only on show for suitors.
Mahrez is in-form, with three goals and an assist in his last five league games for Leicester before this weekend.
He’s willing to leave his current club, Wenger admits he rates him and he’s still only 26 years old.
The Gunners would be foolish not to make a bid in January.