Riyad Mahrez would be Arsenal's permanent solution to right wing woes - but will they sign him?
At 25, Riyad Mahrez is yet to really hit his peak as a footballer, even if he did walk away with the PFA Player of the Year award for the 2015/16 Premier League season. In what was arguably a very mediocre season in England, the Leicester City winger took the league by the scruff of the neck and plundered opponents left, right and centre – but predominantly on the right.
The Algerian has come a long way since his move to England in January 2014 from France’s second-tier. Le Havre were richer by around £500,000 but were left poorer by the loss of a potential world class player with immense technical ability. He may have run away from a trial at Scottish club St Mirren because he could not adapt to the adverse weather conditions but England suited him just fine.
News broke last weekend that Arsenal were genuinely interested in signing Mahrez from the Foxes. Although it has been refuted, even though Mahrez’s agent was reportedly spotted at Arsenal’s friendly, it is an idea worth considering. After having failed to lure Jamie Vardy to north London, the Gunners should turn their eye to the other key player in Claudio Ranieri’s title triumph.
Vardy may have scored 24 goals in the league and broken an EPL goalscoring record while doing so, but there was no question that Mahrez was the creative hub of the Foxes side who delivered on the home stretch. 17 goals and 11 assists stand testament to his abilities. No other player reached double figures for both goals and assists last season.
While Mahrez played across the midfield, the majority of his appearances were on the right side where he managed to score 15 goals and grab nine assists. Which begs the question; is he exactly what Arsenal need?
Arsenal’s right wing is a major concern
Ever since Theo Walcott spent almost an entire season out injured and returned, the Gunners have lacked a bit of venom on the right wing. The signing of Alexis Sanchez ensured that the left wing was ably taken care of. In spite of an injury-hit campaign, Alexis finished with 13 goals and 4 assists in the league – seven goals of which came on the left.
Though the Chilean has started on the right when young Alex Iwobi broke through, it is the left wing that suits him best. It allows him to cut in and use his right foot to good effect. Unfortunately, Wenger does not have a similar option on the right flank.
In truth, they do have a similar player in Joel Campbell. But Wenger’s decision to leave Campbell on the bench and play the likes of Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain instead has been bizarre and, quite frankly, outrageous. The Frenchman clearly does not fancy the Costa Rican forward in spite of his potent threat going forward and his readiness to track back.
Walcott’s role at the club is now under the microscope. Having spent a decade at the Emirates, the Englishman has yet to convince anyone that he deserves a £140,000 per week contract. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s progress has also been remarkably slow. At the moment both players are assets primarily because they help fill the homegrown quota. Wenger has tried playing Aaron Ramsey on the right and the Welshman even made 10 appearances last season with little to show for it.
It is no wonder then that the majority of Arsenal’s attacks originate on the left – in both home and away matches. Alexis is their main attacking threat and Ozil also drifts to the left as a result. Without a clear outlet on the right, it is their weakest link.
That’s where Mahrez would be a great addition. The player is capable of both creating opportunities and finishing them. Early signs show that the Gunners are possibly looking to move away from possession football to a transition and counter-attacking philosophy. Who better to bring in than a player who excelled in exactly that?
Mahrez can cut in just like Alexis does on the other flank, he can cross the ball effectively and is adept at linking up with players around the box – a perfect candidate for Wenger.
A trio of Alexis, Ozil and Mahrez would be enough to put one hand on the Premier League trophy. Add a world class striker and Arsenal could easily top their Champions League group and go further in the competition – something they have failed to do so in recent seasons, leading to a Round of 16 exit at the hands of European heavyweights.
Will Arsenal go all out for Mahrez?
This is where the fans might be left frustrated. Wenger’s stubbornness will most certainly see him give a directionless Oxlade-Chamberlain and a one-dimensional Walcott another chance when, in fact, they would do well to learn from Mahrez. He is already an accomplished player in that aspect who is light years ahead of the aforementioned duo who still need a lot of coaching to improve their decision-making.
However, the Gunners are bursting at the seams in the midfield department. Although Mikel Arteta has been replaced by the capable Granit Xhaka, Mathieu Flamini is not exactly a player that needed replacing. With Wilshere back from injury, Wenger may as well invest in Mahrez.
TransferMarkt values Mahrez at €20m. But that would be a laughable bid from a direct Premier League rival, especially for a player who has a contract till 2019. But following the departure of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, Mahrez may have woken up to the possibility that a repeat of the 2015/16 season may not be possible at the King Power Stadium – no matter what the odds.
A clear sign of intent from Arsenal would make him think twice and the fact that he has already rejected a new contract at Leicester suggests he is considering his options. A €50m bid has been mooted in the press and it would be a fair price for the player considering the last two Player of the Year winners – Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez – went for €100m and €80m to teams in an entirely different league.
But will Wenger be so ruthless in the transfer market? Signing Ozil for upwards of £42m proves he is not afraid to spend on the right player. And Mahrez is a perfect fit for a side starved of creativity when it matters the most.
All stats taken from WhoScored