Ever since the departure of legends like Patrick Vieria, Emmanuel Petit and Gilberto Silva, Arsenal have severely lacked a real physical presence in the centre of their midfield. Arsène Wenger’s side have threatened to win the League on several occasions, but a weak core on their part has seen his side constantly falling short.
Francis Coquelin secured a place in the team this season, adding some much-needed aggression and passion to the midfield. He had been partnered with Santi Cazorla for most of the season, but an injury to the diminutive Spaniard has seen Wenger turn to the team’s January signing, Mohamed Elneny.
The 23-year-old was an integral part of the FC Basel that beat Chelsea home and away in the Champions League a few years ago. He saw his fellow countryman, Mohamed Salah, leave Switzerland for Stamford Bridge later that season, but failed to make any inroads into their first team. So when Arsenal brought Elneny to the Emirates, many feared he would get lost in the squad and get shipped out before he had even settled in. But, thanks in part to Cazorla’s injury, Elneny has managed to get himself in the starting 11, and has not looked back since.
After making his debut in the FA Cup tie against Burnley, Elneny made his Champions League debut at the Nou Camp, in a 3-1 losing effort to Barcelona. On the night, the Egyptian debutant was Arsenal’s stand-out player, capping an impressive display with his first goal for the club, a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the box. Since then, he has started every game, even picking up the club’s Player of the Month award for March.
What sets Elneny apart from the other FC Basel imports who have failed to make an impression in the Premier League over the last few years? In English football, it is crucial to not just have technical ability, but also the physical attributes to be able to cope with the high-octane, all-action style of football. Elneny seems to have these qualities in abundance. He may be just under six foot tall, but he seems to be much bigger on the pitch. He uses his body very well, both to shield and win back the ball, and he has shown, on several occasions, that he is very capable of using the ball effectively when in possession.
His partnership with Coquelin has drawn many plaudits from fans and experts, giving the team a solid and balanced platform from which to build the attacks around. Whether he will still be first choice when the likes of Cazorla and Wilshere return to the first team squad is yet to be seen, but in the short time that he has been first choice, he has certainly shown that he is more than capable of performing at the highest level.