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Just Who is Arsenal New Boy Mohamed Elneny?

For many Arsenal fans, the signing of Basel’s Mohamed Elneny probably came as a bit of a surprise. Of course I’m not referring to the actual announcement of the signing, which came weeks after the initial rumors hit and reportedly stalled due to the work permit process, but rather the relatively unknown aspect of Elneny.

I’d venture to guess that most Arsenal fans had never heard of the Egyptian prior to a month ago, and even less had knowingly seen him play. As with anything involving Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, nothing is done on a whim. Post announcement, details have emerged that suggest Arsenal have been closely monitoring Elneny for quite some time and in fact made contact with his agent some eight months ago.

As a fan, this instills me with confidence as Elneny was clearly a player the team as identified and did their due diligence on, not some kind of cheap shot in the dark. So, now that he’s on a verge of making his debut against Chelsea at The Emirates this weekend, who is Mohamed Elneny, how did he end up at Arsenal, and what can fans expect from him going forward?

In a terrific profile by The Guardian, which I encourage you all to read, David Hytner describes Elneny as the prototypical street footballer: A boy who would spend his entire day playing on the streets only to go home and sleep with the ball. It’s a trait that is similar to last year’s January signing, Gabriel,

Another similarity to Gabriel is the manner in which Elneny was purchased. The Egyptian was a name Arsenal weren’t linked to in the press prior to his purchase and a heavy emphasis was put on his impressive statistics. In last years UEFA Champions League, up until the last 16 Elneny had covered more ground than any player in the competition. Furthermore, Elneny has the 4th highest passer rating in this years Europa League at 92.4% and the 2nd highest average on a per game basis at 92% (overall he completed 408 of his 438 passes). Combining those two elements, Arsenal look to be getting incredible work rate and technical ability. A player that can drop deep to pick up the ball, distribute, and dictate the pace of play.

When Wenger was asked to describe Elneny, this is what he had to say:

“We wanted a versatile player & I wanted a player who can play defensive but can as well play box to box. His strengths are his technical level, vision, intelligence, discipline & physical attitude to compete at a high level.”

The positional element of where Elneny will actually play is an interesting one. He is immediately Arsenal’s best backup to Francis Coquelin but with the impending departures of Mikel Arteta (who may stay as a coach), Tomas Rosicky, and Mathieu Flamini this summer, Elneny seems to have been purchased as an early replacement for one of those three. Like Wenger said, you get a versatile player who can fill in when Le Coq is out and you get a player who can also be a long term replacement in a position of impending need.

A crucial element inherent in Elneny’s purchase and his future at Arsenal is that he’s still evolving as a player. This is perfectly showcased by his increased goal scoring prowess this season at Basel. Never known as much of a threat around the net, Elneny had only managed 4 goals for Basel going into this season. The Egyptian has already netted 5 times in the latter half of 2015, a few of which were superb long-range strikes.

Furthermore, there is the physical element that he’ll need if he is to effectively play the defensive midfield position for Arsenal. While some of his tackling stats are modest, those that watch him say he likes a tackle and even more vitally he’s prodigious at choosing the right times to go in.

Elneny has never been sent off in his entire professional career, which is quite an accomplishment for a player who has spent significant time at the DM position. His diligent, assiduous character and makeup also indicate that he’ll be nothing but a team player and hard worker for Arsenal. Despite evolving into Basel’s most immense and highly regarded midfielder, he’s stayed grounded. When asked about being “a star”, Elneny said,

“I am not a star, but rather a normal person. It is dangerous to feel like a star.”

Arsenal are the consummate team, or as the players routinely refer to “a family.”Their best player is perhaps the most unselfish star in all of world football, someone who looks to make other succeed before himself.

After looking at his attitude, work ethic, upbringing, and ability, Elneny has the pedigree to be an integral member of the Arsenal squad for years to come. The boy who routinely spent 10 hours on the streets a day in the most inelegant of environments is getting his big time move. From the run down, unpaved boulevards to London, in the middle of Arsenal’s most serious title challenge in a decade, and he’s up for it.

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