Mohamed Elneny is a footballer who is not a household name, but is one on the Arsenal wish list – and may well be the missing link between challenging for the Premier League title and winning it.
He started his playing career at the El Mokawloon academy in Egypt, before being signed by Swiss club FC Basel. The latter purchased him and three other Egyptians, one of which was Mohamed Salah, for next to nothing after playing a friendly against the Egypt under-23 team and a successful loan spell at the club in 2013, signing on until summer 2017.
During his tenure in Switzerland, he slowly became a key figure in the side and contributed to the winning of three consecutive domestic league titles. Basel also became a force on the European stage, reaching the semi-final of the Europa League in 2013, the quarter-final in 2014 and reaching the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League during 2014/15 after advancing in a group which included both Liverpool and Real Madrid. Last season also saw him show that fatigue is not an issue, as he found the back of the net five times in 51 games across four different competitions, which is exactly what’s needed when there is no winter break.
This season, Elneny has scored six goals and provided two assists in 28 games from defensive midfield, two of which were in the Europa League. September 2015 saw Elneny score away at Fiorentina, inflicting on them their first home loss of the current campaign. Goals are what have been lacking from the likes of Francis Coquelin in the middle of the park, whereas a player such as Patrick Vieira was often seen on the scoresheet on multiple occasions season after season. Elneny then scored against Fiorentina in the reverse fixture, so he is no passenger in the big games, is a towering figure at nearly six feet tall and is not susceptible to a yellow card because of his physicality on the playing field.
He isn’t blessed with pace but is no stranger to making a key tackle, shrugging off the opposition and kick-starting an attack with a killer pass. His goal-scoring form is largely down to his precision from shots outside of the penalty area, which contributes to why he can last ninety minutes week in week out without suffering from exhaustion as he isn’t running from box-to-box as midfielders often would.
The 23-year-old has plenty of potential, and will slot nicely into the Gunners’ midfield. He has already played 39 games for his country, and has three international goals to show for it, as well as representing the Pharaohs at the London 2012 Olympics. The big question for him is can he sustain his consistent level of play at the top-level in arguably the best league in the world. The last North African to sign for Arsene Wenger got off to a flyer, but couldn’t keep it up, which ultimately led to Marouane Chamakh’s departure. Some would call Elneny a risk, but for the fee being paid for his services, it could turn out to be a massive bargain. If he can adapt to the Premier League quick enough, which does suit his style of play, then the north Londoners have once again completed a cracking piece of long-term business.