I am not writing this article to be overtly controversial but given it seems quite topical this week, I am going to throw it out there – I like Mo Elneny, I always have in all honesty. It seems most of the fanbase are desperate for the Egyptian to be sold, as stories of a move to Turkey circulate, but I hope he stays.
I probably have you throwing rotten vegetables at the screen so let me caveat the above. Do I think he should start weekly in the Premier League? No. Do I think he is passes backwards too often? Yes, a bit. Do I think he adds to our lack of goals from midfield? No. However, I do think that in the modern era, and I bemoan this, I am constantly told it is all about partnerships. For all the huge Ramsey fans out there, after 2015, the fact that he could never quite hit the heights of 2013/14, was NEVER down to the Welshman and always excused by the wrong partner. And of course, there was some truth in this, although if he was actually world class it would not have. Mattered. Vieira was equally as good with Petit, Parlour, Edu, or Gilberto because he was simply, that special. Arsenal sadly do not have the players of that quality and have not had for some time, so yes, the combination does become increasingly relevant.
Given this undeniable fact the partnership’s attributes complementing each other, within the team structure is vital we need to factor this in. In 2013/14 the fact that Arteta was prepared to accept his new defensive role, use his superb reading of the game and act as the deep-lying playmaker gave Ramsey the licence to do what he did, and he did it better in that campaign than he ever managed afterwards. Arteta is now playing the same formation as Wenger did in that season. 4231, with 2 playmakers and a pacy wide man behind a striker.
In this formation now, Thomas Partey may never be the box-to-box goal-scorer that Ramsey was but it is my belief that he left Madrid to play a more expressive midfield role and not to protect that back 4. Last season he had injuries and had to adapt but in pre-season we saw glimpses of the Partey we all believed we have broken the bank for. We all want the Ghanaian to be the modern-day Vieira (or close to it,) and to be able to influence proceedings and cause damage in the opposition half and not be limited to breaking up play in his own.
For Partey to have that freedom his partner needs to be prepared to sit deeper, anticipate threats, have mobility, and offer no nonsense, quick and accurate distribution. In short win it back or receive it from the defence and give it swiftly to the creative, progressive players ahead of him. Now, we all hope and believe that over time, or even now that player is Sambi Lokonga but the alternative for the DM role required for this 4231, with these players ahead is not Xhaka, it is Elneny.
Is Elneny a more talented footballer than Granit Xhaka? No, he quite obviously is not. Just as Coquelin was not a better footballer than Aaron Ramsey but he proved a better central partner for Santi. In 1966 was Nobby Stiles a better midfielder than George Eastham? No, he certainly was not but he sat and allowed Charlton, Peters, and Ball to play. Mo Elneny is just a very good, controlled footballer who seldom gives the ball away and plays it simple and plays it quickly. He takes the minimum number of touches (relative to Xhaka) and as an out and out DM, he is more mobile. Again, I stress, this is as an alternative to Lokonga as a defensive minded partner for Partey. Indeed, if Partey is out I would sooner play Xhaka in the more advanced role as he is more creative and can do less damage defensively.
He is on a low wage, never complains, plays with a smile on his face and lives to do whatever job his manager asks him to do. I might add that in the Premier League last season, in well over 20 games his pass completion was at 93% to Xhaka’s 90% (according to whoscored.com) and he was booked on three occasions, not sent off once and did not make an error leading directly to a goal. Xhaka on the other hand was booked on 7 occasions, sent off once and he made 2 errors that directly led to Arsenal conceding. Elneny in 8 less matches (23 to 31) also recorded 24 interceptions, a key indicator of game reading and mobility as Xkaka. Obviously, there are many areas where the Swiss skipper outshines his Egyptian teammate, but I am only suggesting that Mo is the perfect cover or alternative for Lokonga if we want to see Partey give licence to express and dominate as we believe he can. (Source – Premier League stats.)
In short, whilst Azeez is away and Maitland-Niles is earning trust, if Elneny stays for another season, I have absolutely no issue with that. I said 3 seasons ago he should be used as a DM in a 4141 and I have always felt the defensive role played to his strengths. His first touch is actually very under-rated and his distribution swift and accurate. For ball retention Elneny is an asset and not a hindrance, but we tend to judge him for what he does not offer in the opposition half, rather than what he might add in our own.
There you go, I told you that you might not like this one 😊
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.