Water, is taught by thirst.
Land—by the Oceans passed.
Peace—by its battles told—
Love, by Memorial Mold—
Birds, by the Snow.
By Emily Dickenson
Carrying water and not spilling it is a skill. Quite a few fans have been calling our Egyptian midfield dynamo ‘just a water-carrier’, as if being a water-carrier is somehow something to be ashamed of. Elneny, as an Egyptian, will fully know about the importance of water. Without the wonderful river Nile and its habit to overflow and thus irrigate the land on its banks seasonally, there would never have been an Egyptian dynasty which lasted for millennia and gave us the most exquisite art-works and artifacts. No water no life and no civilisation.
If the supply and distribution of water were managed well by the Egyptians then life would be good and there would be spare time for great things to happen. Those water-managers and carriers were vital; and our water-carriers and water-managers, Elneny and Xhaka, are just as vital to Arsenal.
There is an obsession with having at least one deeper-laying midfielder to be a ball-carrier: a foxie-foxie boxie-boxie who just runs with the ball and hands it over to the attackers or, ideally, delivers that beautiful through-ball time and again. The fact that such a player leaves huge space behind them and with that leaves our midfield and defence vulnerable, seems not to matter. Yet this is exactly why Arsenal have not been able to move on in recent years. We were leaky at the back and gave away far too many chances – and Arteta’s first priority is to stop the rot.
Just get a ‘proper DM’, they say, and get rid of that donkey, Xhaka! Get that Partey guy and all will be swell. Ah well, Arteta seems to see things differently, and being a former midfielder and having played under Arsene and co-managed with the Pepster, I think he knows what is needed more than you and me, don’t you think?
The combo of Xhaka and Elneny may not be sexy for some, but to me – and yes I am the kind of guy who can look at a man-made wall and say ‘now that is a fine wall’ – it is a joy to watch. Tidy, eager, calm and organised, the Swiss and Egyptian water-carriers make us tick and purr. Arteta tried to tame Guendouzi and Ceballos but Elneny is a natural in this role, and it shows.
I wrote previously about the importance of Willian, who both works hard and will make regular connections with our deeper-laying midfield to carry the ball forward if required. This will make a huge difference in terms of chance-creation this season. But if you watch carefully, you will also see that Xhaka and Elneny are actually supporting our attack more, but rather than run forward with the ball – so often a time-consuming and wasteful activity giving defences an opportunity to organise themselves – they prefer to pass their way through whilst keeping it tidy between them and behind them.
And there is one more point. If a team plays 3-4-3 with two marauding wing-backs then that much-desired forward thrust from midfield will be coming from them, in the first instance. They need to be launched with good passes and combination football, and they will also need to be covered for, as huge gaps are left behind every time they join the attack. Hence we need two disciplined water-managers and carriers to keep the balance right.
This does not mean that Arteta will not be looking at some added thrust from the centre of midfield, or that Elneny cannot be improved on. There is hope that Ceballos will develop further and Partey may still join the very Arsenal-party that Mikel is organising, but let there be no doubt that Elneny is an important player for us and Arteta is counting on him.
Water is taught by thirst.