By London correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsene Wenger has revealed why Arsenal were not in the running to sign Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante from his native France.
The Leicester duo have been two of the sensations of the Premier League season and will be key if the league leaders are to emerge from Sunday’s lunchtime fixture at Emirates Stadium with a wider points advantage over the chasing pack.
Algeria international Mahrez was virtually unknown when he arrived from Le Havre in a £400,000 deal in January 2014.
But he escaped the attention of Wenger, who famously identified Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka when they were teenagers, and his scouting network.
“I didn’t know him,” explained the Frenchman at his media briefing on Friday. “Yes of course it is disappointing to miss out on people like Mahrez.
“You are disappointed but on the other hand that happens to every club and we have to accept that. Every club faces these kind of things.”
When asked whether he could be one of the best signings ever seen in this country, Wenger said: “Yes but today we live in a strange society.
“You give me that example but if I sign a player for £400,000, before he plays people will say “what is that? That is not serious for Arsenal” – you have to accept it.
“If you say we signed a player for £40million they will think he is really good.”
Wenger’s disappointment has been compounded by his decision not to sign Kante after being alerted to the midfield enforcer’s immense potential by an old friend.
Kante, the 24-year-old Parisien, arrived at Leicester from Caen in a £5.6million deal and has forged an excellent central midfield partnership with Daniel Drinkwater.
“Yeah, of course I know him,” Wenger said. “You look at his career, you will be amazed. He played in Suresnes in Paris at the age of nine, 10 years old. After he went to Boulogne as an amateur but they didn’t want to sign him pro.
“After he went to Caen, and then he came finally to England. But everywhere he has been, he has always adapted to the level where he was.
“It is not a surprise to me because one of my best friends in life has known him since he was 10 years old, and he spoke to me about him.”