Riyad Mahrez has confirmed that he almost signed for Arsenal in 2016, but Leicester City refused to let him leave.
After Leicester City won the Premier League title in the 2015/16 season, there were plenty of rumours circulating that Arsenal wanted to buy Mahrez. Instead, the player remained with Leicester until 2018, when he joined Manchester City.
According to the player himself, those two years in Leicester weren’t his decision and he feels he was robbed of a couple of extra seasons playing at the top level. The 28-year-old also admits the Arsenal links were genuine.
“After the year of the title win, if I was in a top team, it would not have been the same story,” Mahrez argues. “For me, it is clear that I lost two years at the very highest level.
“I lost two years! Because instead of being 27 at City, I could have been there at 24, 25 years. Leicester blocked me. They told me: ‘You do not go, you do not go!’ My agent had talked with Wenger who really wanted me, it was almost done with Arsenal in the summer of 2016.
“I was really frustrated. It’s not easy to go from being one of the best Premier League players to being part of a team fighting to stay up. It’s not the same job. Everyone is waiting on you at every turn, everything falls to you.”
Mahrez still managed pretty good numbers in the two extra seasons with Leicester, contributing to 17 goals in 2016/17 and 26 goals in 2017/18. All it led to was two midtable finishes though, so he has a point about how those years were wasted time in terms of his career ambitions.
This season, Mahrez has three goals and six assists in 14 matches, as well as winning two penalties. Despite those numbers, the Algerian international has spent the last four Premier League matches on the bench without playing a single minute.
Perhaps things would have turned out differently if he’d moved on to a top-six club a couple of years earlier. He could have made himself a starter earlier on in the process at Manchester City or Arsenal and faced less of a struggle to nail down that spot today. Unfortunately, Leicester prevented that from happening.