Arsenal appeared to be on the brink of throwing away their dreams of returning to the Champions League after suffering three straight defeats last month ahead of a tricky run of fixtures.
Mikel Arteta’s side had gone from being six points ahead of Tottenham in March, to three points behind, after disappointing losses to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton.
Since then their fortunes have turned around, winning four games on the bounce over three teams also contesting for European spots in Chelsea, Manchester United and West Ham, as well as a relegation battling Leeds at the weekend.
Mohamed Elneny has been crucial for Arsenal in driving their top-four challenge
Leading their revived push for a top-four spot has been the unlikely hero Mohamed Elneny.
The Egyptian midfielder had made just one league start all season and had not featured at all since their 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on New Year’s Day.
For a player who appeared to be one foot out of the exit door at the Emirates, his performances in the middle of the park have been remarkable and it’s no surprise that the club are eager to reward him with a new contract.
Elneny has always been a player that Arteta has appreciated, but the Spaniard, like Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery before him, have so often used the 29-year-old as a bit-part player.
Elneny had made just one Premier League start all season until the recent win over Chelsea
He showed what he could do for Egypt helping them reach the African Cup of Nations final
Since arriving in January 2016 from Swiss side Basel, the highest number of league starts he has made in any season has been 17 during the 2020-21 season.
This came after a year out on loan at Turkish side Besiktas, showing the Gunners at that stage, didn’t even see him as a necessary presence in the Arsenal changing-room.
While he has been fighting for relevancy at Arsenal, there has been no doubt about his importance for Egypt – who he played more minutes for in the African Cup of Nations, than he did during the first-half of the season for the Gunners.
Elneny was dealt the task of hounding opposition midfielders, pressuring them into rushed passes more than making needless challenges. He also offered a vital source of protection in front of defence, and someone defenders could pass to, when otherwise they firing aimless clearances in the path of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the hope he could produce some some magic.
He has played every minute for Arsenal since returning in the 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge
It was no surprise that he was included in the Team of the Tournament, as he helped Egypt reach the final where they ultimately missed out on penalties to Senegal.
There was further heartbreak for Elneny and Egypt in the World Cup qualifiers where, again, they lost to Senegal in a penalty shootout.
Though his impressive performances ultimately had no end reward, his commanding displays in the middle of the park offered a reminder about what he can bring to the team.
Arsenal suffered an additional blow in their first of three defeats in April, when valuable midfielder Thomas Partey came off with a thigh injury in the 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace. In the Ghanaian’s absence, Arteta opted for young Belgian, Albert Sambi Lakonga.
The 22-year-old in his first season since arriving from Anderlecht, understandably, still looks like a player who needs to adapt to the Premier League. His displays in the 2-1 defeat to Burnley, and 1-0 loss away at Southampton, were unconvincing.
This led to Arteta calling on Elneny for the first time in over three months in the tricky looking clash at Stamford Bridge, and the midfielder rewarded his manager’s choice with a brilliant display.
His experience has proved especially valuable and he is a much liked member of the team
He was at the centre of everything as he never stopped running and put Thomas Tuchel’s players under pressure from start to finish in a 4-2 victory to start Arsenal’s revival.
His performance was lauded by Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who said on Match of the Day: ‘(Granit) Xhaka was magnificent, (Martin) Odegaard did his stuff again, but Elneny – he came in today and was dependable, professional, he never lets the team down.
‘He had the most passes today and the most interceptions, he just gets himself in the right position.
‘He’s the kind of player, he wants to pass forward. He’s somebody who kept the ball going and kept Arsenal going. He’s the kind of player – and he may leave – you come in when you haven’t played for so long and he’s been magnificent.’
Since then it has been more of the same, with Elneny playing every minute in the 3-1 win over Manchester United, and 2-1 victories over West Ham and Leeds.
As well as his pressing and defensive moments during those games, his passing has been just what Arsenal have needed during what could be seen as a nervy time for their young squad with the pressure of sealing Arsenal’s first Champions League qualification since 2016.
Mikel Arteta’s side could be set to reward the Egyptian midfielder with a contract extension
Against Leeds he had a passing accuracy of 97.5%, and his displays in the prior three matches have told a similar story.
After the win at Chelsea, Arteta said: ‘I have always said that for me he’s one of the most important players in the squad.
‘For what he does when you give him the chance to play and for the things that he does when he doesn’t play.
‘He’s a phenomenal person and a great footballer that sometimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves.’
It’s now been reported that negotiations over a new extension are at an initial stage with the Gunners are determined to keep hold of him.
The Athletic have reported that Elneny is seen as a popular member of the squad and his experience and character are valued highly internally within the club.
His experience proves incredibly value for what is one of the youngest teams in the Premier League. The squad that started against Leeds featured seven players aged 24 or under, including, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli who are both 20, and Eddie Nketiah, 22.
Arsenal could qualify for the Champions League on Thursday should they beat Tottenham
Though he could find it tough to nail down a regular starting spot when Partey returns, Elneny has claimed he is keen to stay at the club, and would provide valuable back-up for his Ghanaian team-mate.
Elneny said last month: ‘If Arsenal say ‘We want you’, I don’t think about leaving. It’s my family for six years. I love this club.
‘I always love a challenge and give 100 percent all the time. I don’t decide who plays, but I keep going in training to show how good I am and to make him (Arteta) play me. If I don’t play I keep going until I get my chance.
‘It’s been a long wait for me but you have to believe. I have to train hard every day, focus all the time to wait for a chance and when it comes you have to give everything just to keep it.’
The midfielder is likely to feature in all three of Arsenal’s remaining Premier League fixtures, and a victory over Tottenham on Thursday, will be enough for the Gunners to achieve their top-four dream.
- Arsenal begin talks with Mohamed Elneny over possible new contract – The Athletic