Arsene Wenger readily admits that he and his team of Arsenal scouts completely missed Riyad Mahrez when he was an unknown gem at Le Harve and has praised Leicester City for the discovery.
The Foxes travel to the Emirates on Sunday with a stunning five-point lead at the top of the Premier League. After consecutive wins against Liverpool and Manchester City, they know another against the Gunners will give them every chance of winning the title.
That is largely thanks to the form of Mahrez, who has been tipped to win the PFA Player of the Year award. He has 14 goals and ten assists in the Premier League, a fantastic return for a man who doesn't even play as a striker.
What makes the 24-year-old's performances more notable is the fact that he cost Leicester the paltry sum of £400,000 to sign from Ligue 2 side Le Harve in 2014. In his time with the French side, he scored just six goals in 60 games, making his astronomical ascendancy all the more baffling.
Indeed, even Arsenal's huge scouting network, which has plucked plenty of gems from France in the past, including Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, didn't spot the Algerian's formidable potential.
Diamond in the rough
Speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Wenger said: “I didn’t know him. He played second division in France, so they [Leicester] did very well. Today he’s one of the dominant players in the Premier League.”
And Wenger seems to be one of Mahrez's biggest fan. The Gunners boss called him "amazing" in the press conference and even said he, along with Jamie Vardy, has given him sleepless nights.
“Goalscoring Vardy, providing Mahrez,” said Wenger on who gives him sleepless nights. “Vardy scores goals, Mahrez creates in tight situations. What’s amazing with Mahrez is he’s not only a provider but also a goal-scorer as well.
Pressure is on
With their nearest rivals out of contention, Wenger is under pressure to deliver Arsenal's first title since 2004. That pressure has arguably held them back in the past and could well do so this season, too. However, Wenger was keen to place pressure firmly on Claudio Ranieri's shoulders, suggesting that they are now favourites and they now have something to lose.
The Frenchman said: “They’ve got time to think but that can be a disadvantage if you don’t think in the right way. I believe still they’re in a position where they think where they are, they have nothing to lose.
“But when you’re top, you can lose what you have. The pressure is on us as well, I don’t deny that. But I take it as a positive, an opportunity to show how strong we are.”
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