By Tony Attwood
I have long wondered (and occasionally mentioned) my puzzlement over why Mohammed Elneny was not utilised more in the Arsenal team, particularly when we were hit by injuries. Indeed back in 2020 I wrote the headline What do Arsenal have to do to get a good press? Play Partey and Elneny.
It had no impact – but then of course there is no reason why it should. And so Elneny seems very much not to have been in favour, even though he received considerable acclaim for his efforts in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Last season he made 23 appearances but this season we have only seen him seven times before last night and six of those have been as a sub. I can only presume it was something to do with the way Arteta wanted to line up the team and the balance of players, but even if so, it looked to me (as a person with absolutely zero experience as a manager of a football team at any level or age range) as if he could be of some use as the injuries started to arise. Yet since New Year’s Day we didn’t see him in a game at all.
Until finally he was used last night, and as I saw the game (on TV) it certainly seemed to be to considerable effect.
The Nketiah situation I can understand a little better since he has reportedly said he wants to leave, and because Arteta found a way to get goals out of the midfield by using Lacazette more as an assist man and a distraction for defenders. For this reason I never saw dropping Lacazette as a way to improvement – he wasn’t there to score goals. But as soon as the midfield had problems, it struck me that Elneny could be the answer.
On the subject of Eddie, Arteta said, “If there is one player I have been unfair with, then it is him. If Eddie has not played more then it is my fault. If he has not played then it is because of me, as a manager. I have missed something or I have not had the courage to play him. Today he showed me again how wrong I was.”
That may not be enough to get Eddie to change his mind about leaving at the end of the season, but it should give us hope that we might get a few more goals in the remaining month of this season with Eddie playing as a conventional number 9.
Likewise, I would be very surprised if Elneny chose to stay, but he did show last night that he and Granit Xhaka can play as a partnership. Which raises the question, why wasn’t this tried in the previous three games, when clearly the club was in trouble?
Of course, I have no idea. I don’t see the players in training, I don’t know if there were underlying issues, I don’t know if Arteta begged Elneny not to go to the Africa Cup, and so he was punished upon his return….
That latter is, unfortunately, possible since Arteta has shown that he values respect from the players as well as discipline more than anything else. But maybe now, as the season plays itself out, we might find both these players finally used. And perhaps even more important we might find that Arteta himself learns the lessons.
It is great to have a plan, but sometimes pragmatism has to rule the day.
And it is not just me who thinks this. The Telegraph’s report on the game also notes that “In the second half they [Arsenal] defended exceptionally well, with Elneny producing a defensive performance of genuine class against a series of blue-shirted attackers.
“No player made more interceptions in the game than Elneny, who always seems to play better when he is facing a more expansive team. The Egyptian, who is also set to leave when his contract expires this summer, is not the answer when Arteta needs a player who can break down opposition defence. He can be the answer, though, against better sides who want more of the ball.”
The question then is, with Lacazette recovered from covid does he come back into the team against Manchester United on Saturday lunchtime or should we stay with the team that so comprehensively dealt with Chelsea?
Arsenal currently score 1.53 goals a game in the League. Manchester United score fractionally more – 1.58 goals a game. So doing all that we can to help the attack, as per last night looks like a great idea.
True, across the season Arsenal have the better defence but it is our defence that needs bolstering so I do hope that Elneny can be used again.
We have the sixth-best defence in the league and it really should be better than that. Maybe just for these last few games, Elneny can help out.
From the archives: 21 April 1930: Leicester 6 Arsenal 6
From Untold Arsenal: Have Arsenal improved or declined in relation to last season?