With Arsenal in the midst of the most open Premier League title race in years, January transfer signings appeared a good chance to bolster the squad for the crucial final stretch of the season. Their only signing of the window was the young defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny from FC Basel for a fee of £5 million pounds. He has been talked about as a physical midfielder with a good long distance shot, but can he have an impact on Arsenal’s season?
There will inevitably be a lot of pressure placed on the shoulders of Elneny. He is a young 23-year-old Egyptian international who is being brought into a club fighting for a treble this season. Domestically, Arsenal are now falling off the pace in the Premier League after Tuesday’s lacklustre 0-0 home draw with Southampton, whilst they are also aiming to become the first team in over a century to win the FA Cup three times in a row.
On the continent, the team face the very difficult task of beating the free-scoring Barcelona side in the Champions League this month, which is coinciding with the team’s drop in form at the present moment. So, what can Elneny do to help turn things around? Firstly, he needs to cement the defensive midfielder role for himself, with manager Arsene Wenger currently preferring to use the veteran Mathieu Flamini over Elneny as both cover for Francois Coquelin. The Frenchman is only just returning from injury and will likely go straight back into the first team once he is 100% match fit.
This poses a problem for Elneny as he is unlikely to oust the likes of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey in the other midfield roles. This will probably leave him consigned to FA Cup duty for now, as he featured in the fourth round win over Burnley last weekend. This game gave Wenger and Arsenal fans some hope as Elneny became more involved the longer the match went on. Whilst he initially struggled with the physicality of the English game, by the end of the match he was the player with the most touches of anyone on the Arsenal team and ended the game having completed 95% of his passes.
Despite an encouraging showing against Burnley, Wenger clearly feels the Elneny needs time to adjust to the Premier League before he will begin playing regularly. He is quoted as saying to The Mirror after the Burnley win: “I felt he started a bit cautious and played a bit secure. He needs to adjust to the power of the game in the Premier League, but this was a good welcome today and certainly he has learned a lot. It will take him some time to adjust to the power side of our game here but his intelligence, mobility and the technical level are good.”
Clearly Wenger is not yet comfortable with Elneny, as he left him out of the squad for the Southampton game on Tuesday, feeling he was too tired to play two games in four days. So what now for the young Egyptian? It now appears his best shot at playing significantly this season is to overcome Flamini in the pecking order and solidify himself as the premier rotation player for Coquelin. He will likely get another game in the FA Cup fifth round against Hull on the 20th February, as the crucial first leg of their Champions League game against Barcelona is only three days later.
For now it appears that Elneny will get to adjust to the English game slowly, as he observes the squad in training and in games from the substitute’s bench most likely as Coquelin’s play has cemented him in the defensive midfielder role for Arsenal. For Elneny to challenge him he will need to provide something different, and catch the eye of Wenger.
As for his impact this season, supporters will likely be limited to glimpses of his potential. He will have to earn his plaudits from the FA Cup most likely, and be content with small cameo appearances in the Premier League. This Sunday, Arsenal face Bournemouth away and with Coquelin still returning to match fitness and Flamini vilified by fans for his performance on Tuesday, Elneny could make his first Premier League start. Going forward until May, he will then likely return to the substitutes bench whilst he builds on his potential.
At the moment, he needs to grow and develop if he wants to become a regular in the Arsenal first team, although his stint in Basel and nine goals in 23 international caps for Egypt show that this young player can develop into a very good physical midfielder in the future. For now, he needs to work hard and show Wenger he is the finished article, then we will see a lot more of Mohamed Elneny.
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