Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar has quickly become flavour of the month. Bernardo Silva has left for Manchester City, Tiemoué Bakayoko is set to join Chelsea and teams are realising that perhaps spending €140million on Kylian Mbappé is not the best business.
Here we take a closer look at the 21-year-old French international who is about to find himself in the middle of a north London transfer tug-of-war as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur battle for his signature.
Two years ago, no one batted an eyelid when Monaco spent a measly €4million bringing an unknown 19-year-old to the Stade Louis II from Caen. In his 25 Ligue 1 appearances for the Norman club, he only started six before the Monegasque side pounced.
It's safe to say very few people could envision what was to follow.
LEMAR’S RISE TO PROMINENCE
Lemar’s four assists during the 2014/15 campaign had caught the eye, but as Leonardo Jardim looked to rebuild his squad, it was expected the teenager would play a back-up role.
That was true as Monaco travelled away to Toulouse for their third game of the campaign. Lemar would come off the bench for Farès Bahlouli with 32 minutes to go. Seven minutes into his debut he announced himself to the travelling support.
Receiving the ball just outside the box, Lemar worked hard to keep possession and pushed the ball onto his favoured left-foot. Le Téfécé couldn’t stop him and the midfielder’s shot found the bottom corner.
Jardim’s team was nowhere near the cohesive unit it is today and Lemar featured on both the left and right, as a No.10 and even filling in at left-back during the Coupe de France win over JS Beaulieu.
With the return of Radamel Falcao from his disappointing loan spells with Manchester United and Chelsea, and Valère Germain back from Nice, Jardim changed to 4-4-2 last term and Lemar benefited greatly from the new attack-oriented system.
Not blessed with great pace, Lemar developed a superb understanding with Manchester City transfer target Benjamin Mendy and used the persistent rampaging runs from the left-back to create the space needed to pick apart defences.
Whether he was slipping Mendy down the flank or using him as a decoy, Lemar showed consistently that his brain is indeed quicker than his legs and never looked off the pace as he teased defences with crosses into the penalty area.
It helped to have a hungry and fully fit Falcao in the box, plus the lightning fast Mbappé making runs in behind. With Silva on the other flank, the opposition must have been at a loss as to who to concentrate on stopping first.
HOW LEMAR COULD FIT AT ARSENAL
If Arsène Wenger continues to play a 3-4-3 formation next season, although not a stylistic replacement for Alexis Sánchez who could leave the Emirates, Lemar would take up the role on the left of the attack and provide more threat in the same way that Mesut Özil did from behind the main striker.
Although playing on the left of a midfield four last season, he almost took up the role of an inverted No.10, coming inside, giving Mendy space and taking up position between the defence and midfield. He would then look to either shoot from distance, slip attackers in, or deliver teasing crosses.
The extra protection of a left wing-back and trio of centre-backs would relieve some defensive duties from the 21-year-old, giving him space to flourish.
What the former Caen man also offers is a huge threat from set-pieces, be it corners or his uncanny ability to score from free-kicks. Goals from dead ball situations can be worth their weight in gold with Lemar in the side.
This is not to say Lemar can’t defend, far from it. L’Equipe reported last month Spurs were preparing a bid for the midfielder, which would now need to be more than the €40million Arsenal saw rejected.
HOW LEMAR COULD FIT AT SPURS
Mauricio Pochettino also dabbled in the 3-4-3 formation last season, which could see the Monaco man take up either Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen’s role behind Harry Kane, giving the Argentine boss another talented option in the final third.
Lemar could also play left in the 4-2-3-1, with Spurs’ marauding full-backs benefiting the same way Mendy has for the Ligue 1 champions.
When Silva was linked with a move to Manchester United early in the summer, he was deemed perfect for José Mourinho due to his defensive discipline, and that’s something Lemar has added to his game too.
In fact, during the 2016/17 campaign, Lemar made more successful tackles per 90 minutes (1.7) than Silva (1.5).
He even edged the Portugal international in terms of interceptions, with one compared to the City signing’s 0.9 per 90.
With both Mendy and Djibril Sidibé favouring the attacking side of the game, Monaco’s wide midfielders had to fill in defensively and Lemar did a commendable job in this respect.
It makes him an ideal wide player for a Pochettino system.
LEMAR’S BRIGHT FUTURE
Now firmly part of Didier Deschamps’ France plans, the 21-year-old has a bright future ahead of him and Arsenal and Spurs would likely need to up their offer if they are to make anything happen this summer.
Monaco have apparently promised Mbappé that after Bakayoko no other players will be allowed to leave. Money talks however, and if one of the London clubs were to break the bank for Lemar’s services, Monaco’s business plan, as we saw with Anthony Martial in 2015, dictates everyone has a price.
Both player and club are seemingly very happy with the current arrangement, though. Lemar knows he is guaranteed playing time in the principality and in the season before the 2018 World Cup, a risky move to a new country is one not worth taking.
Lemar would undoubtedly add creativity and an outside threat to both Spurs and the Gunners, but for now a deal looks a long way off, and that’s the way Monaco would like to keep it.