Mohamed Elneny is not who you would usually expect to see starting in midfield for Arsenal, with many fans believing his time in North London was over following his return from Besiktas. However Mikel Arteta’s faith in the Egyptian midfielder seems to have paid off, following his inspired performance at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Elneny joined the club in January 2016, the fee reportedly in the region of 5 to 7 million pounds. He was brought in to offer depth and was not expected to start many games for the gunners, yet that is exactly what he did. As far as signings go, this was far from exciting for the Arsenal fans.
After falling out of favour under Unai Emery and the arrival of other midfielders Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, the Eygptian was sent out on loan to Turkish side Besiktas. He featured 36 times for the ‘Black Eagles’ over the 2019/20 season and was a regular starter for them. He admitted that the loan move “Helped me restore my confidence”.
Many Arsenal fans expected the midfielder to make his move to Turkey permanent over the summer, but after successful performances in pre-season (including an outrageous strike against MK Dons) and a very solid performance against Liverpool in the Community Shield, the Arsenal boss had no choice but to keep him.
Elneny is a player that very much believes in himself and his own ability, but is also a very humble and respectful player. I suspect that many Arsenal fans were bemused when they saw his name in the starting lineup for the game against Manchester United at the weekend, especially considering Arsenal’s two usual suspects in midfield, Xhaka and Ceballos, were omitted from the starting XI.
He joined new signing Thomas Partey in a two man midfield pivot as a part of Arsenal’s 3-4-3 formation. The two midfielders each had an amazing game and arguably won the game for the Gunners. They were given the hard job of keeping United’s star-studded midfield of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba quiet, managing to do so with some ease.
Although Partey stole the headlines with his Man of the Match performance, Elneny quietly had quite the game himself. He played the entire 90 minutes, and it didn’t look like he had run out of energy as he aggressively pressured Harry Maguire to kick the ball out of play for a throw-in in the 91st minute. He ended the game with 3 interceptions and 89.2% pass accuracy, but overall he brought a lot of energy to the Arsenal side and forced United into making lots of mistakes.
This performance gained a lot of attention on social media with Arsenal fans giving him the nickname of the ‘Pyramid Pirlo’. An interview with Arsenal Invincible Gilberto Silva also resurfaced in which he stated that Elneny is the closest player Arsenal have in comparison to Patrick Viera (skill set wise).
His performance may leave Arteta with yet another midfield conundrum (in a good way this time!). Arsenal have two important fixtures in the coming week as Molde travel to the Emirates in the Europa League on Thursday as do this year’s surprise package in the Premier League, Aston Villa on Sunday. Who will be occupying Mikel Arteta’s midfield for these games?
It would be hard to drop Elneny following his performance against The Red Devils, however I believe that he will be subbed out for either Xhaka or Ceballos, as Arsenal will look to take the game to Villa, and Elneny does not offer the same attacking quality as the aforementioned midfielders.
We could see him play as the holding midfielder in the midweek game however, accompanying youngster Joe Willock, who is also knocking on the door of the first team with his outstanding shift against Dundalk, which saw him score a goal and also gain an assist.
Having said this Arteta has not yet tied down his starting XI for Premier League games this season, and is very unpredictable in this aspect so could we see Mohamed Elneny start every week for the Gunners?
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Written by James Bousfield – Twitter – @JamesBousfi3ld