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An unlikely hero? Why Arsenal’s 28-year-old star could be a useful player for Arteta this season

Mohamed Elneny during a training session with Arsenal.
Mohamed Elneny during a training session with Arsenal. (Image Credits: Twitter)

Why Mohamed Elneny could be a vital player for Arsenal this season

When Arsenal lined up for their season opener against Fulham in the opening weekend of the Premier League, there was perhaps one name that perhaps befuddled fans and pundits alike. A certain Mohamed Elneny, who Arsenal fans thought they’d never see wearing the club’s jersey again, was there right in the heart of their midfield.

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The 28-year-old Egyptian midfielder started playing youth football at Al Ahly, an Egyptian club, in 1997 and then moved to Al Mokawloon in 2008. After spending 2 seasons with the U-19 side, he was promoted to the senior team.

He played a total of 39 games for them while scoring and assisting thrice. FC Basel was his first venture in Europe. In 144 appearances for the Swiss side, he scored 10 goals and assisted 14 (source – Transfermarkt).

SINGAPORE – JULY 26: Mohamed Elneny #4 of Arsenal looks on prior to the International Champions Cup 2018 match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Arsenal at the National Stadium on July 26, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images for ICC)

Arsenal signed him midway through the 2015-16 season. However, Elneny never looked like he settled into the first-team. He made sporadic appearances in the league, while mostly featuring in cup ties. He has close to 100 appearances for the Gunners so far.

Last season, he was sent on loan to Besiktas and managed to feature 36 times for them. He has played in 6 of Arsenal’s games so far this season. Elneny is a veteran in his national team with 77 appearances and 6 goals to his name.

Why Elneny could be a vital player for Arteta this season

While it might have been a huge surprise to see Elneny start for Arsenal, it is not without a reason. Mikel Arteta has very few viable options in midfield. Mesut Ozil hasn’t kicked a ball in ages. Matteo Guendouzi has been offloaded on loan.

While Thomas Partey has arrived from Atletico Madrid, Lucas Torreira has gone the other way to join the La Liga side on loan.

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 12: Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal shakes hands with Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal after the Premier League match between Fulham and Arsenal at Craven Cottage on September 12, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Childs – Pool/Getty Images)

This leaves the club with a handful of names in central midfield such as Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock and Elneny himself, along with new signing Partey. Now that’s quite a small contingent of midfielders for a club competing in so many competitions this season.

Elneny is the only backup defensive midfielder that Arteta has at his disposal after Partey.

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The Egyptian has featured in 6 of Arsenal’s 7 games this season, which shows Mikel Arteta is open to the idea of keeping him in the squad and also providing him with a decent amount of game time. In a season where games will come thick and fast, it will be vital for Arsenal to have a player like Elneny, who can slog out quite some games in the absence of Xhaka, Ceballos, or Partey.

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