We reported on Monday that, according to the Telegraph's Henry Winter, French international and Leicester midfielder N'Golo Kante will leave the probable '15-16 champions for Arsenal. But there are also a series of rumors around another holding midfielder that seem to be a little further down the transfer window road: Swiss international and Borussia Monchengladbach player (God that is hard to type) Granit Xhaka, the latest being that he is indeed Arsenal's top target this summer.
So, two players who appear to be upgrades for the double pivot, coming off a season where the team clearly needs to make reinforcements. We ask:
Xhaka, Kante, or Why Not Both?
I'm going with Granit Xhaka because his hair fits in best with Arsenal's follicle system. Ok, you want a real reason? I think we need to re-emphasize passing and building through midfield and Xhaka is the better of the two in that area. Kante is better than Coquelin, but there is some overlap in style and performance. Knowing our frugality in the market, we would only be able to get one, and, to me, Xhaka is the clear choice. Height is also a plus. For a team as defensively aerially challenged as Arsenal has been the past decade, it never hurts to have some size out there, particularly when Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Alexis Sanchez, and Mesut Ozil are the four of the first names on the team sheet.
Xhaka is the player we need, by a long shot. He's excellent on the ball, while also being strong defensively. Like Elneny he's a versatile player, but I really see him as the controlling-type defensive midfielder that we've not had since Mikel Arteta limped off the field against Borussia Dortmund in November, 2014. Kanté is energetic, a good tackler and interceptor, but he's not a defensive midfielder. He's a box to box player and not a particularly strong passer. He's like a better Coquelin, which is why he plays for France and Coquelin doesn't. It's important to note, though, that when he played for France, he played as a box to box midfielder. The bottom line is we don't need Kanté, but we absolutely, 100% need Xhaka, or a player of his ilk. I think this season has shown us all that.
Leicester City is obviously a good team, I don’t think there’s any way to dispute that as they march on to what appears to be a Premier League title. I’m not convinced, though, that the individual players are the reason. The feeling I get from them is that the sum is greater than the whole, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few guys leave and fail to repeat this season’s performance elsewhere. That’s a roundabout way to say that I’d rather bring in Granit Xhaka than N'Golo Kanté, if given the choice. He’s done it longer, he plays in the stronger league, and generally just seems to be the better player. And I’m not nearly as worried that he’s a puzzle piece that works perfectly for Leicester’s masterpiece, but might not fit the hole we need to fill.
I must preface this with a confession that I know little about Granit Xhaka. I don't follow much outside the Premier League and MLS, so I'm relying on the judgment of others, but my HOT TAEK is this:
Why not both?
If I had to choose one, I'd probably choose Xhaka, for the reasons Thomas outlined - I have no idea whether Kante will become the next Michu or actually be the next big superstar midfielder, and I'm not comfortable making that judgment off of one season where everyone around him is also playing out of their heads. But - and this is a big but - Arsenal, as we know, have resources. Arsenal have for too long sat on those resources, and Arsenal for too long have pursued a strategy of "I hope our stellar first 11 never gets hurt and doesn't go through slumps" while not seriously reinforcing the ranks and hoping that the kids will be alright. And that clearly hasn't worked. So it's time to think a little differently.
I figure it's time to - if not go completely transfer-spending bonkers - at least overbuy in one area, because why not? So for me, get them both, but if that doesn't work out and Leicester hold on to Kante, focus on Xhaka. But really, get both.
I think Xhaka is brilliant and he's undoubtedly the number one target I'd like to see come in this summer, but I wouldn't complain if Kante was the fallback plan. We all know about his incredible motor and work ethic, and his defensive abilities have clearly progressed to the next level this season. I do think his passing is underrated and while he's not a controller type of passer like Xhaka is, he's still not bad enough to the point where his inclusion would derail this team. His skillset is a little too close to Elneny's to justify him being seen as the DM of the future, but I think one could do a lot worse than a Kante+Ramsey pairing.
Of course, this is filtered through a transfer rumor lens, so who knows what's really going on with Kante's availability? He certainly ticks all the boxes of someone rumored to go to Arsenal, including getting some call-ups of late with the French national team, but I feel like Leicester will take its dumptruck full of money from Champions League eligibility and find a way to lock Kante in. Xhaka feels like a clever signing in the way that Elneny was; it feels more Wengerish somehow, and overall it feels like the better move. (If you believe what you read, and that's a big if, it also feels like it might be all but officially announced.) But either is an upgrade, and if Xhaka doesn't happen, let's hope Kante does.
It's my profound hope that Arsenal get inflicted with the Xhaka virus this summer.
Kante, to me, feels like a use of resources that would only bring us another Coquelin. Xhaka feels like a use of resources that would be an upgrade, a big one. He's the more complete player.
Plus, Kante is short. He's 5'6"! YOU'RE practically 5'6"!