Heading towards the end of the 2021-22 season, most Arsenal fans were in agreement: Mohamed Elneny should leave the club. It wasn’t personal, if anything Elneny’s humble, unassuming nature has made him something of a fan favourite at times. However, with Thomas Partey locking down the holding midfield role, and with Arsenal looking for more attacking players to play alongside him, Elneny has largely found himself on the outside looking in. With his contract due to expire in 2022, it made sense for all parties to part ways in the summer.
Elneny’s Arsenal career has been that of a squad player. The Egyptian has always been happy to wait in the wings, featuring in cup competitions and deputising when required. While popular at the club, he’s never nailed down a starting place. Elneny was loaned to Besiktas for the 2019-20 season, having fallen out of favour with Unai Emery.
Although he wasn’t sold, the loan highlighted Elneny’s inability to break into the side since signing for the club. While he’s featured slightly more regularly under Mikel Arteta, who seems to value the Egyptian’s grounded, hard working personality, all expectations were that he would be released in the summer, and those interested in football betting would have been speculating on where the midfielder was going to end up.
That was, until the final seven games of the season. After Thomas Partey picked up an injury, Arteta tried to shuffle his pack. Albert Sambi Lokonga was played as the deepest midfielder, but the young Belgian wasn’t yet ready for the role. Arteta readjusted, and brought Elneny into the side, playing in a two alongside Granit Xhaka, who took up a slightly more reserved role. Although Arsenal’s campaign didn’t end in the manner they would have hoped, Elneny was praised for slotting so seamlessly into the side.
He came into the team at Stamford Bridge, having not played in months, and showed no signs of rust as Arsenal won away to Chelsea. He played every minute of the run-in for Arsenal, following that game with wins against Manchester United and West Ham. His ability to retain the ball in midfield, and his work rate out of possession, made him a crucial component of the rejigged Arsenal side in the final games of the season.
His contribution saw him rewarded with a one year extension to his contract, a move which suits all sides. Elneny has spoken multiple times about loving life at Arsenal, even when he’s out of the side. For the club, it ensures they keep hold of a competent squad player for next season. When Partey is fit, he’ll be first choice, he can operate as a lone midfielder and progresses the ball extremely well, offering more dynamism than Elneny does. The expectation is that, in time, Lokonga will take on that role, but the Belgian midfielder hasn’t yet looked ready for that task, and Elneny’s assured nature makes him the perfect personality for a squad player.
Furthermore, Arsenal have a relatively thin squad. Although they’re expected to bring in at least one midfielder in the summer, Arsenal are back in European competition, and will be looking to compete on four fronts next season. Arteta will likely be fielding young, inexperienced teams in cup competitions, and having an experienced, reliable player in the centre of the park will make all the difference to their chances of success.
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