Why Arsenal Keeping Elneny Just Makes Sense
On Sunday at home to Leeds, Mohamed Elneny produced a performance in midfield that likely would have earned him a Man of the Match award if Eddie Nketiah hadn’t scored a game-winning brace. For weeks, the Egyptian has admirably deputized for the injured Thomas Partey. He has formed a good partnership with Granit Xhaka and stabilized Arsenal’s midfield at a crucial moment in the season. However, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, the Elnenaissance appeared to be something of a swan song for the midfielder.
Elneny has made it clear that he’s prepared to keep contributing to the club however he can. Following Arsenal’s triumphant 3-1 win at home to Manchester United, Elneny iterated his desire to stay in north London. Asked if he wished to remain at the club, he stated, “If Arsenal say: ‘We want you’, I don’t think about leaving. It’s my family for six years. I love this club.” The 29-year-old even went on to say that a lack of playing time would not perturb him from signing a new contract.
On Monday, David Ornstein of The Athletic reported that Arsenal had entered into talks with Elneny regarding a contract extension. The news was received with mixed emotions from the club faithful. Some have responded with jubilance, glad to see the midfielder rewarded for his efforts. Others have expressed annoyance, proclaiming that the Egyptian isn’t good enough for where Arsenal want to be.
On one hand, it is understandable that Gooners would be underwhelmed by their club retaining Elneny for another couple years. The Egyptian will turn 30 over the summer, inviting concerns over the inevitable effects of the age curve. He has never been a particularly eye-catching player. The biggest clubs in Europe are not knocking his door down. Elneny is a tidy footballer, but has developed a reputation throughout his career for usually selecting the safe pass and being rather unadventurous in his play. For a team currently fighting to be in the Champions League next season, Elneny occupies a roster spot that many would wish to give to a more skillful player or minutes that perhaps could go to a budding young player like Miguel Azeez or Charlie Patino.
But in truth, Elneny’s qualities and a summer of busy recruitment ahead make extending the Egyptian a good decision. Between his performances in the last few weeks and his utilization in the famous 1-0 win at Old Trafford in November of 2020, Elneny has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to serve as a reliable understudy in the most competitive league in football. Despite not being a world-beater of a player, the midfielder is gifted at providing stability and security on the ball in the center of the pitch. He has also shown an increased aptitude for playing the occasional defense-splitting pass. Under Arteta, he has seemingly progressed as a footballer and, for a team that will look to get better at dominating possession and holding leads comfortably, Elneny possesses a handy skill set. Having earned the manager’s trust, Elneny can serve as a closer, a player who comes off the bench to help retain possession and take the air out of a match when Arsenal need to protect a narrow lead.
Now, Elneny is definitely not the best player with his particular qualities in the world. There are plenty of more talented defensive midfielders out there. But Arsenal will likely aim to regularly set up in a 4-3-3 next season, and Arteta will assuredly deploy Partey as the lone six in the system. Very few players of a similar caliber will tolerate playing second fiddle to the Ghanaian. Elneny, however, seems more than willing to serve as the backup to one of the most important players in the squad until Sambi Lokonga is defensively apt enough to take up that mantle. As things stand, the man currently wearing no. 25 would be honored to play a lesser role in the ensemble and would still put his heart into every one of his limited minutes on the field.
Not only is Elneny content being near the back of the supporting cast, but he would do it for cheap too. Currently, the Egyptian currently earns a reported salary of approximately £50,000. This is lower than the average salary for a Premier League player and given the bit-part role Elneny would be set to play in the coming couple of years, it is unlikely to increase by much. Extending Elneny would mean that Arsenal retain a squad player who has proven reliable and is entering the probable height of his powers for a relatively low cost.
But perhaps the most compelling argument for keeping Elneny is simply that Arsenal likely can’t afford to upgrade on him this summer. In the coming months, the club will likely to be on a mission to bring in elite or high-level attacking players. If Nketiah departs in search of game time as he is expected to do, Arsenal will need at least two strikers to come in and replace the Englishman and Alexandre Lacazette. Nicolas Pépé also appears destined to leave north London, and the Gunners have been linked to wingers such as Cody Gakpo, Serge Gnabry, and Raheem Sterling in the meantime. Furthermore, a left-sided eight-style midfielder is also on the anticipated shopping list. With recent reports regarding Arsenal showing interest in Bologna’s Aaron Hickey, it appears that a full-back is also wanted.
With Arsenal aiming to make so many acquisitions during the off-season, it is doubtful that a backup defensive midfielder is high on the list of priorities. It is equally implausible that Arsenal would have much money left over to sign one with more quality than Elneny’s. At this point in time, it would be a significant change in course to dedicate time and resources to signing another player there, especially with the offensive firepower Arteta will need for next season. Re-signing Elneny is a low-cost, low-risk move allowing Arsenal to kick the can down the road for at least another season and address that position when more pressing matters have been settled.
Early on Tuesday, Ekrem Konur reported that Arsenal had agreed a deal to extend Elneny’s agreement until 2025. Many will see this as a repeat of previous extensions of senior players gone awry. It is true that the mishaps involving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil, and others are not too far back in Arsenal’s past. But this is different, although some supporters might be too scarred from previous mistakes to see that. For little cost and with no pressure to play him often, Arsenal have secured an industrious and reliable squad player, a jovial and committed dressing room personality, one of the few players in the side who have experienced Champions League football, and a player who loves the club. Even if mostly from the sidelines, he will help support a young core of players looking to return Arsenal to glory. And he will be there to lend a hand whenever he is needed.
Yes, it is not the ruthlessness that Arteta promised when he first arrived. But togetherness and a commitment to the non-negotiables have taken Arsenal further than they would have expected to go this season. Mohamed Elneny exemplifies those things and wishes to keep doing so. Given all that, why would they let him go now?
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