Arsenal finally won a match away at Old Trafford — first one in the Premier League since September 17th, 2016. There were a number of contenders for Man of the Match, but one flew a bit under the radar, at least for some — Mohamed Elneny.
It’s easy to point to the strong performances of summer signings Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey, and don’t get me wrong, they were great in the Gunner’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United. Gabriel was booked early in the first half, but afterwards didn’t put a foot wrong. He was solid throughout and made a number of important tackles and clearances. Partey bossed the midfield and thoroughly got the better of Paul Pogba. He had the most touches, possession won, tackles and interceptions and dribbles completed in the match.
But my vote goes to Mohamed Elneny. He partnered Partey well; his solid, fundamentally sound, and mistake free play set the pace for the team and allowed Partey free reign to control the middle of the pitch. He did a lot of the dirty work — closing down United’s midfielders and generally being a nuisance. He had perhaps his best game in terms of ball progression, both passing and dribbling. He was also a big part of Arsenal’s press.
Prior to kick off there were quite a few observers questioning Arteta’s decision to start Elneny over Granit Xhaka and/or Dani Ceballos. It was a different story at the end of the match. Afterwards, the pundits were praising his contribution and work rate.
Elneny fits the LANS bill (“like a new signing”) this season. He joined the club during Arsene Wenger’s time in charge, in 2016 from Basel. He was an afterthought under Unai Emery, hardly playing then going out on loan to Besiktas. It seemed as if his time at the club was over.
But Mikel Arteta seems to have brought about a welcome change for the Egyptian. Arteta often speaks about confidence and belief, and that mindset appears to have worked wonders with Elneny. The season is young, but he looks to be part of the tactical plan. He’s already made nine appearances in all competitions. Arteta sees something in the player that Emery did not and is giving the 28-year-old an opportunity to prove himself.
When asked about the midfielder in his post-match press conference Arteta said:
He has this energy as a person, he creates that atmosphere. I thought we needed that energy and positive feeling today. I thought he was tremendous.
I like players that have zero ego that play for the team and want to contribute whether it’s one minute or 96 minutes, or just by being there and contributing to our culture.
Mo is a person who is admired amongst everyone at the football club and I think now is respected as a footballer, something that I always believed he had to be.
Following last season’s loan spell, Elneny wasn’t sure if his future was in North London or elsewhere. In a recent interview posted to Arsenal’s website, Elneny reflected on his return to the club and his first meeting with Arteta:
When I sat with him, I said, The way you train, the way you want to play is the way I love to play’ and really I love the way we train, the way he is assisting everything in the club now and it makes me excited to give 100 per cent for the team.
Under Emery, I was not playing much, that is why you can lose your confidence and your feeling to play. That is why when I went to Besiktas, on a one-year loan, I played always and brought the confidence back, and when I came back here I saw everyone happy for me to come back.
After the United match, former players heaped praise on Elneny included the legendary striker Ian Wright.
Gilberto, midfielder for Arsenal’s 2003-04 Invincibles side, also chimed in.
3 huge points. Elneny and Partey look like a powerful partnership. Congratulations @Arsenal— Gilberto Silva (@GilbertoSilva) November 1, 2020
And Martin Keown, the former defender who isn’t afraid to, uh, speak his mind openly, had good things to say in his opinion in his column for the Daily Mail.
I was blessed to play behind some outstanding pairings in an Arsenal shirt, including Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit and Vieira and Gilberto Silva.
It’s an incredibly important job to act as that screen in front of the defense and Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey were solid here.
There has been a lot of attention on Partey as the summer signing. But Elneny is matching his new team-mate’s quality in midfield.
Elneny looks to be heading in the right direction under Mikel Arteta. I’m not sure that he’s got a starting spot locked down, especially because Mikel Arteta has spoken about the importance of squad rotation, but I think we can safely say Elneny has earned a spot in that rotation for the time being. It’s a good problem for Arteta to have.