LONDON • Arsene Wenger has pinpointed N'Golo Kante as the player behind Chelsea's nine-point lead at the top of the Premier League table and the Arsenal manager revealed yesterday that he had tried and failed to sign the midfielder from Leicester last summer.
He clammed up when asked for details on why Kante preferred to join Chelsea from Leicester, whom he helped to win the title in his one and only season there.
But the Frenchman suggested that Chelsea's financial clout - and Arsenal's inability to compete with it - was a factor.
"Have I looked to sign Kante? Yes. When he was in France and when he was at Leicester," Wenger said. "I cannot explain everything (about why he preferred Chelsea) but it is quite obvious when you look at where he has gone.
"Was it the money? I do not want to talk about that. Transfers are transfers - you cannot explain absolutely everything."
Wenger takes his team to Chelsea today on the back of the disastrous 1-2 home loss to Watford on Tuesday. On the same night, the Blues secured a 1-1 draw at Liverpool, in which Kante was outstanding.
"I feel Chelsea have found a better defensive balance since we beat then 3-0 at home in September," he said. "They are very good in transition. I watched their game against Liverpool and Kante had a huge impact in their team.
"It's no coincidence that they are in the position that they are and Leicester were in the position they were last season. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have also come back to very strong form compared to last season, so Chelsea are very efficient when they go forward."
Wenger added: "It was a little bit of a wake-up call for them (at the Emirates) and (Antonio) Conte managed to change things in the right way. They benefit a little bit from the fact they are not in the Europa League or Champions League.
"They can prepare properly and if they want to change the system, they can work on it all week. That gave Conte time to prepare, to know the players better and that certainly helped. The integration of Kante has had a huge impact."
Conte said on Thursday that Chelsea must seize the chance to move a step closer to winning the title.
"There are 15 games remaining and 45 points. Now we must focus on Arsenal," the Italian said. "They are a great team who can fight for the title... We play at home, which is very important, but it will be a really tough game."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE