If not for a certain Kylian Mbappe, one feels that another of Monaco’s extraordinary young talents, Thomas Lemar, would be getting far more attention than he has.
Thankfully for Arsenal, a move for 21-year-old winger is unlikely to cost nearly as much as his £120million-rated team-mate, with speculation that the Gunners could be close to securing a £30m deal by next week.
With Mbappe still being lined up and talks believed to be in progress over a swoop for Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette, it’s been a pretty promising start to the summer for Arsene Wenger, who seems ready to make the changes necessary to improve a side that finally failed to clinch a top four place last season.
Arsenal moved quickly to bring in Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer, but the focus must now be on attack as the club face the daunting prospect of losing as many as four key players in that part of the pitch, with no clear indication yet about what will happen with Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
But where does Lemar fit into all of this, and what would he offer Wenger’s side? Here’s our take on the exciting Frenchman who could prove to be one of the bargains of the summer if he rocks up at the Emirates Stadium…
Where does he play?
Although capable of playing any attacking midfield role, be it left, right or central, Lemar enjoyed the season of his life last term with a settled role on the left of Monaco’s midfield.
Although a bit of a rarity in the modern game, Monaco played a fairly straightforward 4-4-2 last season, with Lemar’s form on the left wing contributing greatly to the team’s incredible 159 goals across all competitions.
With a total of 14 goals and 14 assists, Lemar showed himself to be a great all-rounder to both set up his team-mates and join in the scoring himself.
His arrival could be bad news for Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi, because he surely represents a major upgrade in that department.
What are his strengths?
Blessed with pace and a sublime left foot, Lemar has everything Arsenal would wish for in an attacking midfielder.
Thomas Lemar 2016/17 stats
His ability on the ball and intelligent movement off it means he could easily settle into more of a wide-forward role for the Gunners, as Sanchez and Ozil ended up playing for the team towards the end of last season in a Wenger’s 3-4-3 formation.
The Frenchman certainly benefited from being able to aim his crosses at the prolific target man Radamel Falcao last season, so Arsenal could do well to persuade Giroud to stay at the club as he would surely thrive from that kind of service from Lemar out wide.
He’s also pretty handy from set-pieces…
Could he replace Alexis Sanchez?
Whilst not an identical player to Sanchez, there are similarities between the two.
Replacing the Chilean will certainly be no easy task, with Lemar certainly lacking the same experience, work-rate and battling qualities of Arsenal’s unsettled star.
However, Lemar has his best years ahead of him and could develop into a more well-rounded attacker with time, and the raw ingredients are undeniably there for him to succeed at a club like Arsenal.
If there’s any player to compare the youngster with, it would be Robert Pires; the timing of his runs into the box from wide areas make him ideally placed to score 15-20 goals a season, while his creativity means he could continue to get similar figures in assists.
Like Pires, Lemar is more of a luxury player and may need to take time to adapt to the physical side of the English game, so can’t truly be considered a direct replacement for Sanchez straight away. However, if he joins alongside a top striker like Mbappe or Lacazette, between them they could fill the void left by Sanchez’s likely departure.
Why aren’t other clubs in for him?
It does seem surprising that Arsenal seem the only contenders for Lemar at this moment in time, though Chelsea have reportedly also shown some interest in the past.
Monaco top scorers 2016/17
26 – Kylian Mbappe
17 – Valere Germain
14 – Thomas Lemar
Once again, Arsenal could benefit from top clubs chasing so many of Monaco’s other players. Virtually the entire team that won the Ligue 1 title last season is being linked with a move away this summer, with Bernardo Silva already being snapped up by Manchester City.
Chelsea, meanwhile, seem to be focusing on defensive midfield by poaching Monaco for Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Manchester United are thinking along similar lines by tracking Fabinho. Elsewhere, both full-backs Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe are being linked with City, United and other top clubs.
This means Lemar has gone under the radar somewhat, with Liverpool instead opting to sign Mohamed Salah in that position, while United are seemingly chasing Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic.
Arsenal have signed some real duds from Ligue 1 in the past – Marouane Chamakh, Gervinho and many, many more, so fans may rightly be concerned that the lack of a rival bidder for Lemar means he could end up following a similar path.
While it’s next to impossible to know how a player will cope with changing clubs, not to mention moving to a new league, there’s enough evidence from Lemar’s short career so far that suggests he’s the real deal, so if Arsenal are the only team in for him then that’s only good news.
Still, Monaco may want to avoid too much of a fire-sale, so acting quick to snap up the £30m man could be crucial for the Gunners, as they run the risk of the French champions offloading Bakayoko, Fabinho and perhaps Mbappe and then deciding that’s that for the summer.