Arsene Wenger has revealed that he was interesting in signing N’golo Kante both when he was in France and at Leicester City and confirmed that he is now closely watching Kylian Mbappe, a player he has likened to Thierry Henry.
Chelsea eventually signed Kante last summer for £32 million but, in explaining why Arsenal missed out, there was a clear hint that they were unable to match the Premier League leaders' financial offer. Asked what happened, Wenger said: “I cannot explain everything but it is quite obvious when you look where he has gone.”
Wenger then noted the “huge impact” Kante had for Chelsea in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Liverpool at a time when he is desperately short of central midfielders. His only fit senior specialist is Francis Coquelin, although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has impressed in that role and is likely to start tomorrow, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide also in contention. Ramsey is out for three weeks with the calf injury he suffered in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat against Swansea City and so will also miss the first leg of Arsenal’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich. Olivier Giroud has a fitness test but is expected to be available tomorrow.
“We are a bit short at the moment but I think we have young players who can do well in there,” said Wenger. “We have Adelaide, we have of course Maitland-Niles, we have Chamberlain. Alex Iwobi can play in there.” Granit Xhaka is serving the third of a four game suspension while Mohamed Elneny will return next week following the final on Sunday of the African Cup of Nations.
Of Mbappe, Wenger said: “He has similarities to Thierry Henry. First of all, he’s from the Caribbean as well and he has a huge talent. He plays for Monaco and Thierry Henry played for Monaco. When I was in Monaco I could see Thierry Henry similarities. But of course after that, what makes the career is the mental aspect that Thierry had. This young boy has to show that he has similar qualities on the mental front that Thierry had.”
Wenger also refused to contemplate the possibility of a defeat tomorrow against Chelsea that would put Arsenal 12 points behind and probably out of the Premier League title race. “In a press conference you always have to deal with the ‘ifs’ and the tragic consequences; I believe what’s most important is that we turn up with a positive performance,” he said.
“We have shown in the first game that we can beat Chelsea so let’s turn up with the same quality and show a straight response. What is at stake is how well we respond, in a united way and in a determined way, to get there and play our game. I think naturally we will be more on alert than we were against Watford.”
There was also a glowing tribute from Wenger to Frank Lampard following the Chelsea legend's retirement. “Among the top, top, top,” he said. “I think he was a huge player and the consistency of his performances through the years was absolutely unbelievable. I saw him start at West Ham and honestly I would not have bet that he would have made a career of that calibre. It shows first of all that he was focused, motivated, intelligent and had a huge stamina in his desire to play. He had a quality that you cannot give to players - he got in the box, had the right timing and he was a great finisher, because when he hit the ball, it was never in the stands. It was always on target and that’s why he scored so many goals. He’s a huge player.”