Like kids on Christmas morning, Arsenal fans were more than excited when they saw the starting line-up that would face Burnley, as all focus shifted onto new signing Mohamed Elneny and just what he would be bringing to the team.
After ninety minutes, a couple of things are already clear.
Firstly, it appears as if Elneny is going to be used in both of Arsenal’s two central midfield roles, and not just act as cover for one of them, in the way that Mathieu Flamini is cover for Francis Coquelin but not for Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla.
For the first 70 minutes, he played beside Coquelin, bringing the ball up from the defence and offering an outlet when passing moves broke down, in the same way that Ramsey does. After Coquelin was substituted for Mikel Arteta, Elneny was played in a more defensive role, focusing on pressing the opposition more and letting others move forward with the ball.
This versatility outshone anything he did during the game, as he didn’t look out of place in either role. When attacking, he often acted as a decoy run, creating space for others to run in. Time and again, Alexis Sanchez had time on the ball outside the Burnley penalty area, and Elneny was always on the move around him trying to drag a defender out of Sanchez’s path. It’s a skill that Ramsey excels at and is of great benefit to Sanchez.
He also seems to have a knack of arriving late in the box, instead of Flamini’s tendency to just bomb forward as far as possible and hope for the best. That’ll help when Ramsey misses games and Olivier Giroud needs someone to run onto his flick-ons.
On the defensive side, his work wasn’t as solid, but this was more down to Arsenal’s double-pivot in midfield, which requires familiarity between the midfield pair in knowing when the other is going to push up the field or drop deeper back.
There were a few instances in the first half where Elneny went for a ball that Coquelin had also committed to challenging for, and the back line were left exposed to Burnley’s front-line on far too many occasions. It happened again when Arteta came on, and Elneny found himself sitting back expecting Arteta to press more. With more time at the training ground, these errors will slowly go away.
All in all, it was a solid debut for the Egyptian. We’d all have loved it if he had had a spectacular game, crowned with a thirty-yard thunderbolt of a strike into the top corner. But what Arsenal need right now is someone who can come in and fill a role if and when someone gets injured, and in this regard, Elneny looks like he can contribute right away.