No wonder Arsene Wenger tried to sign him.
N’Golo Kante’s reputation as a workhorse midfielder was reinforced after the Frenchman put in an steely performance at the heart of Chelsea’s midfield during their comprehensive victory over Arsenal on Saturday.
The build-up towards the much-anticipated London derby featured Kante’s name being bandied about by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, who responded to a question about the former Leicester man in his press conference by admitting that he did try to sign the 25-year-old in the summer.
Wenger says he was interested in signing Kante when he played for French club Caen, before making an approach for him again at Leicester, only for the Premier League champion to opt for Stamford Bridge over Emirates Stadium. It was a decision that looks likely to pay off for Kante, a player whose industrious running and tireless work-rate has been lauded by players, pundits and fans alike. While Wenger claims it is “obvious” why Kante joined Chelsea instead of Arsenal, hinting at the financial factor, his display in the 3-1 win once again showed why he is the main man Arsenal should have signed at the start of the season.
Kante is like the well-oiled cog in Chelsea’s machine. He distributes the ball brilliantly and disrupts the movement of opposition attackers through his never ending running and closing down. Francis Coquelin struggled to lay down a similar type of performance at the Bridge and ended up being bullied by the likes of Eden Hazard, who bulldozed his way past the Frenchman to score a magnificent solo goal. Coquelin, like Kante, emerged as a young talent at an unfashionable French side and surprised everyone with solid performances in midfield after returning from a loan spell at Charlton a couple of seasons ago. The comparison of the two players ends there, however.
"I don't think I've ever seen a guy who's as fit as this guy, who gets around the pitch as much as this guy, Kante," Alan Shearer said on BBC's 'Match of the Day'.
"How many times he breaks up play, stop the opposition in their tracks - and he can play as well.
"We've said it many times. He was just superb today. The amount of grass that he covers, the moves he breaks up, setting up [Diego] Costa. They [Arsenal] just couldn’t live with him today.”
When a player allows his team-mates to show off their best qualities and gives them enough freedom to express themselves on the pitch, you know you’ve got a gem on your hands. Chelsea’s system is incredibly hard to break down and Arsenal found it impossible to breach the partnership of Nemanja Matic and Kante on Saturday because of their defensive work and accurate distribution.
While a handful of supporters have criticised Wenger for failing to bring in Kante, others have lambasted the Frenchman for signing Granit Xhaka instead. The Swiss international has endured a difficult time in north London so far, picking up two red cards and drawing further critics for his lack of nous when it comes to tackling. However, it must be said that Xhaka is a completely different player to Kante and he was brought in with the intention of becoming Arsenal’s ball-playing midfielder.
What has become clear over the first half of the Premier League season, however, is that N’Golo Kante is likely to win his second consecutive Premier League trophy in May - and it’s no coincidence. Arsenal scoured the summer market for a ball-winning midfielder and ball-playing midfielder in the summer but only managed to get one half of what they wanted.
For Arsene Wenger it could prove to be the rejection critical to the Gunners' title chances in a season that has been rumoured to be his final one at the club.