James Maddison missed out on starting the FA Cup final win and England’s Euro 2020 squad… but with Arsenal desperate for a No 10 and stars around Saka and Smith Rowe, the Leicester star could offer Mikel Arteta everything he wanted from Willian
- James Maddison starred for Leicester in the first half of the 2020-21 season
- But a hip injury and a Covid breach saw him fall down the pecking order
- He started the FA Cup final on the bench and missed out on Euro 2020
- Arsenal are now interested in a move, so how would the midfielder fit in?
Arsenal’s search for a creative midfielder appears to have led them to what could be one of the blockbuster moves of the summer in the form of James Maddison.
Reports earlier this week suggested the Gunners had tabled a player-plus-cash offer for the Leicester star, who is said to be valued at £60million by the East Midlands outfit.
Sportsmail revealed Mikel Arteta’s interest in signing the 24-year-old last month, with Martin Odegaard returning to Real Madrid after a six-month loan at the Emirates Stadium during the second half of the previous campaign.
Arsenal could land one of the summer’s blockbuster deals with interest in James Maddison
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta (right) is keen to add a creative star like Maddison to his squad
The Gunners have already signalled their intention to add to their homegrown quota this summer following the £50m capture of Brighton defender Ben White and their pursuit of Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
And despite the fee shelled out on the Three Lions centre-back, Maddison’s arrival would represent a major coup for a side that have finished in eighth for the past two seasons.
But what could Maddison currently offer Arsenal, and how would he fit in among Mikel Arteta’s squad? Sportsmail takes a closer look….
Arsenal have shown their intention to buy homegrown stars with defender Ben White
Maddison will almost certainly never experience the same number of peaks and commensurate amount of troughs in one season as he did in 2020-21.
He appeared a shoo-in for England’s Euro 2020 squad following the first half of the season, scoring eight Premier League goals and laying on a further seven top-flight assists as Leicester hovered around the top of the table.
There were even suggestions that he could challenge the likes of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish for a starting spot in the tournament that summer prior to the hip injury he aggravated in February at Aston Villa.
The issue saw him miss only four top-flight games but given the season the Foxes were enjoying – which involved being in the race for the Champions League spots until the very last day of the season – he was always going to struggle to earn his place back.
Maddison enjoyed an excellent start to the 2020-21 season and appeared a Euros shoo-in
Youri Tielemans and Wilfried Ndidi continued to thrive in midfield without him and Maddison did himself no favours when he was left out of the defeat by West Ham after breaching coronavirus rules with Ayoze Perez and Hamza Choudhury.
‘I felt that was the punishment but after that you have to move on,’ Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers said after Maddison came on as a substitute in their FA Cup semi-final victory against Southampton.
‘Everyone in life makes mistakes and these guys hopefully will learn and make better decisions going forward.
‘They are very much a part of our squad. We started this season all together and we want to ensure we stay together right the way through to the end of the season.
‘James isn’t quite at his level fitness wise but he can come into the game and play a huge part for us.’
Maddison made his England debut in 2019 and looked certain for Gareth Southgate’s squad
Yet regardless of whether his Covid breach or his hip struggles were the real reason behind him undoubtedly falling down the pecking order at the King Power Stadium, the end result was a peripheral or non-existent role in two major events.
Maddison celebrated their FA Cup final victory against Chelsea – courtesy of a Youri Tielemans wonder strike – perhaps more vociferously than some of the Rodgers’ starting XI.
But imbued in that joy of the club’s maiden FA Cup trophy would have been a tinge of disappointment that he was only allowed to play 23 minutes of the Wembley showpiece, and that as a substitute.
Perhaps of greater heartache was his omission from Gareth Southgate’s initial 33-man England squad for the Euros at the end of May, just four months after he looked like a certain component in the group that would assemble at the end of the club campaign.
But first in February he suffered a hip injury at Aston Villa which kept him out for four games
‘It’s an area of the pitch where we have unbelievable competition for places,’ Southgate said, explaining Maddison’s omission. ‘We just feel there are players ahead of James in those areas of the pitch.
‘He’s had a season that’s unfortunately been disrupted by injury and in more recent weeks he hasn’t always been starting as well.’
It was a bitter blow for a player who in February admitted he was ‘hungry’ to earn an England recall.
Speaking to BBC Football Focus, Maddison – who made his England debut in a 7-0 drubbing of Montenegro in November 2019 – said: ‘I know I am good enough. I just want that opportunity.
‘Hopefully that is something I can strive towards. That is not a target I will hide. I want to be back in the England squad, simple as that.
‘If that wasn’t my target there would be something wrong. I have come through the lower leagues and that feeling of representing my country against Montenegro was the best feeling ever.
He was then dropped by Brendan Rodgers at West Ham after breaching Covid regulations
‘That is something I am very hungry for. That is why I am working every day, why I am staying out on the training pitch longer to help this Leicester team and ultimately break back into the England team.’
With Grealish now set to join Foden at Manchester City in a £100m deal and Mount looking to improve on a stellar campaign with Chelsea, those competing for Maddison’s spot with England appear to be going from strength to strength.
But that is where Arsenal may come in and offer the change of scenery that such setbacks are often conducive to.
The Gunners cannot equal the standing enjoyed by the current Premier League and Champions League holders, but the club does represent a high-profile option where Maddison could assume a key role.
Despite the new contract and the No 10 shirt handed to Emile Smith Rowe and the ever-growing status of Bukayo Saka for club and country, the north London outfit desperately require another creative option.
Three players recorded seven assists across all competitions for Arsenal last season, the highest number any member of Arteta’s squad managed. Smith Rowe and Saka make up two thirds of that list.
He therefore ended up missing out on Southgate’s initial 33-man squad for this summer
The third player to register seven assists in 2020-21 for Arsenal was surprisingly Willian, who flattered to deceive after arriving on what appeared to represent good – albeit not particularly inspiring – business on a free transfer from Chelsea.
The Brazilian was viewed as both a central and wide attacking option who would hit the ground running at Emirates Stadium after seven fruitful years at their London rivals.
But after just one goal in 37 appearances, and a retrospective call for patience with Willian from technical director Edu when his compatriot’s struggles were becoming increasingly apparent, the Gunners are reassessing their options and few appear as well suited as Maddison.
The Leicester star’s assists return last term may be comparable to that of Willian’s , but the goal threat he would bring to the table is comprehensively unrivalled in the Gunners squad.
The Gunners are on the lookout for creativity after Martin Odegaard’s return to Real Madrid
Odegaard was an excellent stop-gap and after adapting to the Premier League showed glimpses of the talent that prompted Madrid to sign him as a teenager. But the Norwegian scored just twice in his loan spell.
A lack of goals was also one of many criticism aimed at the polarising figure of Mesut Ozil, who managed just 12 in his final three full seasons at the club.
However, Norway captain Odegaard demonstrated that Arsenal could become a fluid attacking team by forging a partnership with Smith Rowe, who was often deployed on the left of the midfield three.
Smith Rowe’s emergence post Boxing Day – as well as Saka’s brilliance for an 18-month period – demonstrated that Arteta can truly allow some of his younger stars to flourish if they buy into his ideas.
The Gunners are desperate to compliment young duo Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka
With 27 goals in his last three complete campaigns and a regular starting spot not guaranteed – especially with the addition of Boubakary Soumare deeper in midfield – Maddison and Arsenal could be a perfect match.
Odegaard’s leadership qualities could be matched by the bubbling character that Maddison represents on and off the field, and despite Gary Lineker branding the potential move a ‘backward step’ it could be the right move at the right time.
Centre stage has become a scene where Maddison has not figured too frequently in the recent past, and while the transfer fee demanded by Leicester is likely to be in excess of £60m, it is a deal that all parties should give serious consideration too.
The Gunners will not find it plain sailing to come up with what could become their record transfer fee paid having splurged out on White too, but Maddison’s next step could see him fulfil a role which has become a problem area for the London side over the course of the past 12 months.
Arteta expected such an outlet from Willian but the Brazilian has disappointed in north London
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