Jamie Vardy’s new contract at Leicester City this week has almost certainly put a lid on his rumoured move to Arsenal this summer. However, Arsene Wenger’s comments to the media this week suggests that Arsenal are trying to procure the services of another one of lynchpins of the Foxes’ title-winning squad.
Wenger, in an interview to beIN Sports, suggested that Arsenal are one of many clubs interested in signing N’Golo Kante who is a vital midfield presence for the home team at the European Championship in France.
Kante committed the most successful tackles and interceptions in Europe’s top five leagues last season. Kante was the engine of Leicester’s surprise title charge last season, tirelessly breaking up play and launching counterattacks in a modern Makelele role. The arrival of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach last month has already bolstered Arsenal’s midfield options.
Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla have all been tried in different combinations for the two midfield positions over the last two seasons. Cazorla and Ramsey are best deployed in attacking positions and are stop-gap substitutes at most. If Arsenal do manage to pull off the transfer for the 25-year-old midfielder, it would be at the expense of an already established member of the squad.
Coquelin and Elneny showed signs of a decent midfield combination towards the end of last season. This is because the Frenchman’s persevering screening of the midfield had an able foil in the commendable ball-playing ability of the Egyptian.
Coquelin often sits deep and rarely ambles forward in support while Elneny is eager to pull off a shot from outside the penalty box every once in awhile. Cazorla’s return from injury would mean the Spanish midfielder should get a look-in, especially with his ball retention ability and the lack of a weak foot.
Xhaka’s strengths are his passing and his interceptions. The 23-year-old, who was the only one to miss his penalty in Switzerland’s loss to Poland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016, is eager to win the ball and initiate counterattacks with raking long balls. However, his tackling is slightly suspect for a holding midfielder though he is young enough to improve.
While all of the midfielders in the squad at the Emirates have strong passing, only Coquelin offers a work rate close to Kante’s. This is why pairing Xhaka with Kante in the heart of the team would vastly improve the team’s defense. Kante can patrol the space in front of the back four and win the ball more consistently, leaving Xhaka as the main point of transition from defense to attack.
Against teams that are comfortable in possession, the positioning sense of the holding midfielders will come into play and interceptions will be crucial. Against teams that sit deep, Xhaka can push further up leaving Kante as the dynamic lone screen.
Rotating Coquelin, Elneny, and Xhaka for the two midfield positions is a possible option if Kante does opt to stay at Leicester. Elneny and Xhaka would probably be exposed against quick counterattacking teams and will be most useful when chasing games. Xhaka’s performances for Switzerland at Euro 2016 suggest that additional defensive duties blunt his potential to contribute to attack.
Coquelin and Xhaka could, therefore, be a more stable partnership with the former sitting deeper and the new signing allowed more freedom to roam. However, if Wenger does manage to secure Kante’s transfer then Petr Cech would probably add another Golden Glove to his personal trophy cabinet next season.