Arsene Wenger has had his fair share of success and failure. This is inevitable after such a long career and more opportunities for error and calling things correctly.
Broad shoulders are needed when making decisions on a big stage. There are plenty who are lying in wait for crumbs of a mistake, and when it does happen, Wenger is rightfully grilled on the reasons why he opted for that call, rather than other avenues.
We can all pore over many litres of spilt milk, but there are many other decisions made by Wenger that have been perfectly timed. Those thoughts that manifested themself into a seamless correlation on the pitch. Some of these have been the adaptation of the players he has signed.
Those men that have been signed to do a certain job and through intense scrutiny on the training field, have been earmarked for an entirely different role. Those that spring to mind are Lauren Etame Bisan Meyer, Emmanuel Petit, Kolo Toure and of course, Thierry Henry. These players had forged a strong reputation – with the exception of Toure – in their respective countries and they signed for Arsenal thanks to their strong displays in different positions.
Yet Wenger saw something in them that made him mark them for an entirely new venture.
This pre-season just passed saw another player dip their toes into a new place in the team, and Mohamed Elneny did a fair job considering the change in disciplines. How is this different to when Nacho Monreal plays in the heart of defence though?
It is down to Elneny’s place in the squad. Since joining from Basel in 2016 the Egyptian has not let anyone down and can hold his head high. His days at central midfield though, have been limited thanks to the rivals he has for those two spots in the middle of the park.
Elneny is not a spectacular player. He is not the type that pings passes from deep, and he isn’t one to carry the ball around two or three players. He keeps it simple, is effective with possession and has a great shot when the fancy takes him. He is a typical squad player, but could versatility help him land more starts?
Being able to play in defence means he is twice as likely to get a game, given the propensity for injuries in the modern game. Has he the game for this different set of requirements though?
He does indeed. Think back to Kolo Toure, is Elneny any less talented with the ball than the Ivorian? He may lack the recovery pace that Kolo had in his pomp, but Elneny’s experience in central midfield means that he has the tactical acumen required to place himself in a superior position – thus negating the need for that burst of speed.
It works for Per Mertesacker.
When asked recently about Elneny’s chances of playing in defence, Wenger said to Metro –
” Elneny is a player who has a fantastic attitude and mentality, and his main target is to help the team. When he plays there, of course he does extremely well. Of course he needs to learn the defensive side, but I always felt that a good central midfielder can be a good centre back. With the fact of course that when you’re playing in the back four you have to be decisive in the challenges, you have a bit more flexibility in the middle of a back three. He can do that.”
So the boss plans on utilising this new found adaptability from Elneny. Let us not forget that a firm bid was lodged from Leicester City for the Egyptian, which the player himself refused. He seems intent on making a success of himself on Arsenal’s stage, and if it be at the back or in the engine room, Elneny is the type that will give his all to the cause.