It’s always an exciting time for the fans.
The chance to see a brand spanking new signing actually doing his thing on the pitch, particularly when the player has an air of mystery about them.
In the newest player to make his bow in the red and white, Mohamed Elneny, we have a perfect example of a player who most fans’ knowledge of is via YouTube alone. Some of us have also had the pleasure of seeing him develop over the last two or three years for Basel in Switzerland, initially alongside the more celebrated Mohamed Salah, now plying his trade for Roma.
But that is about it.
Beyond initial impressions of an extremely fit and tidy enough midfielder with decent size (5″11) and jackhammer of a right foot shot (six goals this season including two absolute stunners against Fiorentina), it’s hard to know what to expect, especially so early in his Arsenal career.
So its worth seeking the opinions of those who know him.
His first International manager, former US coach Bob Bradley said of our new Egyptian;
“He’s an all-round midfielder who can play deeper when needed, he can move forward and shoot from distance but he’s not just a guy who stays in there and breaks up plays.”
So far, so obvious to even the cursory video compilation glancer. This echoes Olivier Giroud’s immediate observations;
“I’ve trained with him and he’s a good player, very talented but first of all he is a good guy…I think he’s basically a box-to-box midfielder, so he can attack and defend, run a lot and has good power and technique. He is quite a complete player.”
What was more informative were the less widely reported comments Bradley made.
“When Elneny started he was still young, he was only 19, but you could see that he trained really well every day,” Bradley expanded.
“In training he was improving technically. You could tell how he worked and how he wanted to get better. Little by little he became an important part of our team. His passing got sharper. He started to improve his ability with long passes”.
In a team better noted for ‘tippy-tappy’ technicians, it will be interesting to see how someone more used to spraying the ball around from deep (ok not quite Xabi Alonso or Andrea Pirlo!) adapts to ‘Wengerball’, and whether that distribution can be used as an asset. It would certainly help the team to mix its style up a bit, particularly with the personnel likely to be on show against Burnley.
Bradley and others have also pointed out the experience Elneny has had in European competitions against both Chelsea and Tottenham (to good effect in both cases) will help him adjust to the English game. Certainly his prodigious work-rate and previously outlined work ethic will help, and we know the manager gives more opportunities to those players he has longer term hopes for. Wenger himself observed;
“We have checked his attitude and he is a very focused and motivated player. His attitude tells me he can integrate into a group like ours that demands a lot of dedication from each other”.
His settling into proceedings should also be helped by his experience of leaving Egypt to further his career in Switzerland. After initially struggling with culture shock and shyness, he grew into one of the team’s primary leaders. Certainly the leap from perennial continental competition league participants to England should be rather less pronounced.
Looking forward to the game itself, hopefully Burnley will continue their primary defensive structure of dropping deeper rather than pressing high up the pitch, giving our new man slightly more time to adjust to his surroundings and team-mates.
He certainly has the potential be a significant contributor to our ongoing challenges on all three fronts, and with Coquelin still returning from injury, Flamini unable to maintain the required intensity for two games a week, and Arteta no longer a real option, a good start in the FA Cup could set him and the team up for an exciting remainder of the season.
On this week’s podcast I had tongue slightly in cheek when I suggested a goalscoring debut for the Egyptian, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him stand out with this energy and adventure this weekend.