Has Arteta Finally Got His Lean Mean DM Machine?

And What To Do with Mohamed ‘Marmite’ Elneny?

Here at Bergkampesque, it is fair to say, Mohamed Elneny is a ‘Marmite player’: many of us like him but quite a few feel that he is not an Arsenal-level player, or at best a squad player. We are an open blog and encourage exchanges of opinions in order to jointly get closer to the truth. To establish this we need to have a combination of various views and a willingness to allow doubt and modesty into our minds. The former is easy to establish on a blog but the latter is a more of a personal matter.

I was reading through Whoscored the other day and, to my surprise, Mohamed is currently second best in the league at completion of passes with a whopping 92.9% success rate. Elneny is of course a very tidy player and his main focus is on keeping it simply and safe in the (mostly) deeper role in midfield, but his passing is often done under pressure and he does like to make progressive passes whenever possible. He is also one of our best players in terms of defensive stats in terms of interceptions, blogs etc.

Many supporters will regard Elneny as an unexciting player, but I beg to differ. With many teams trying to pressure Arsenal when Leno has the ball, Elneny and Xhaka, and soon hopefully also Partey, need to have nerves of steel and a good awareness of all players on our half of the pitch. They also need a good first touch and of course a good ability to pass the ball sharply and yet with feeling: an over-hit and misdirected pass can easily be disastrous. So for Elneny to be one of the best passers in the league is really something to take note of.

I have said this before and know that not everybody agrees with it, but in a 4-2-3-1 formation it is important to have two solid DMs who form a great pair together. They may not set the team on-fire but have a pivotal role to play in the team. The more sexy attacking midfield play is likely to come mostly from the ‘3’ and the full backs/wing backs. If and when we play in this formations it is important to become compact and disciplined when we have to defend and push up together when we are building up an attack or want to apply pressure on the opponent in their own box. The double DM-pivot plays a vital part in this and I have been very impressed in Mohamed’s role in all of this. There is still a case for one of the DMs to help support the attack now and again, but for this an excellent intuitive relationship between the DMs is a prerequisite – and of course also the required skill-set, which, it is fair to say, Elneny is generally lacking (although he can sometimes surprise us all with a peach of a pass or through-ball). Elneny has a very good positional awareness and reads the game well, and quietly he has become important to Arteta.

Now the biggest question is what to do with Mohamed if and when Partey is fully fit to return?

I have no doubt that Partey is technically an upgrade to the Egyptian Mr Tidy and our signing from Atletico Madrid is yet to make a real impact on the team. We have hardly seen the man in action but it looks like he is close to a return now. A fully fit Partey will have to play and it is most likely that he will be paired with Xhaka, who may not be loved by every Arsenal fan but has played almost constantly under all three Arsenal managers. There is no doubt in my mind that Arteta rates him highly (and secretly is his captain on the pitch).

I am a big fan of Xhaka too (which is well known here) but also open to a combo of Partey-Elneny, at least in some games. Yet I am mostly looking forward to the pairing of Xhaka and Partey, even though this may need some time to properly gel into a lean and mean Double-DM machine. Elneny is the ideal back up and is likely to be able to play well with either of them. Of course we need more depth in midfield as these positions often suffer from injuries and suspensions, so another question is who can be our ‘fourth’ DM?

But that is side question for now; the main question to BK regulars as well as readers who have not yet commented (you are very welcome!) for this post is: what to do with Elneny; should he be first choice for the Double-DM-pivot or back-up? Or should he even be sold for a better player?

By TotalArsenal.

46 thoughts on “Has Arteta Finally Got His Lean Mean DM Machine?

  • Honestly I don’t know how anyone can rate Xhaka. He is shockingly bad. He doesn’t do anything well. He is League 1 standard at best…which is why almost every pundit has very little positive to say about him. In my opinion he is one of the worst purchases during the 50 years I have been supporting and watching Arsenal.

  • I’d keep him as a partner for Partey for the rest of the season. How he does between now and the summer will decide whether he will be back up for next season on sold in the summer window.

    If we sold Guendouzi, Torriea and Willock in summer then i’d definitely keep Elneny as a squad player for continuality. But overall i think Elneny is a steady, honest hardworking backup player.

  • Adamgooner Reading,
    Xhaka is played in wrong position completely, he should be more advanced position, he has a great pass like he plays for Swiss. He is not DM because he doesn’t run back can’t understand Arteta does not see this.Have Party and Eleney pivot for xhaka being more advanced supplying more creativity.

  • Andrew…. could not agree more. Xhaka is reliably BAD. Slow, lazy, cannot turn and pass and you’ll be lucky if he uses his right foot. His stats are shocking Reds, Yellows, goals conceded from errors, you name it. Just a goody two shoes in training…
    . Xhaka and Elneny just get in the way. Provide zero transition. Yes they complete passes but they are only 5 yards and usually bad. Chuck Bellerin into the equation as well.
    Ok. Xhaka’s free kick vs Chelsea was very handy.
    Still not forgiven his lack of regard for the captain’s armband.
    We need to move on from these two.
    The youngsters have totally exposed how bad they are
    So refreshing

  • I wanted him out however I think he’s proven himself a good squad player and has thus far had a solid season. No fireworks except for his screamer of a goal last month but solid performances. He has minimal creativity though. Play him ahead of Partey, no way. Keep him as a squad player yes however we have to be careful that by keeping him it does not hinder Willock’s progress although I do not see them as the same type of player.
    Think we need to keep Balogun too even if it means selling Nketiah unless they are both willing to wait until next season when I can see Lacazette being moved on, regrettably. I think Xhaka is more marmite than Elneny. I am a Xhaka fan except for when he loses his nut and makes stupid tackles etc and gets sent off. His distribution/passing has improved no end under Arteta. 4th DM? I don’t think we have one. Mustafi perhaps????? Looool

  • Thanks for the comments people. It is not easy to see what Xhaka brings to the team and why all managers like him. I get the slowness point of view but the quickest thing on the pitch is the ball and Xhaka knows how and when to make it move best for the team. Granit sets the tempo and guards the structure of the team from midfield and can play both deep and advanced, as long as he is partnered well, which both Partey and Elneny do.

  • Think I’ll focus on Mo then.
    Elneny is now performing the job that Arsene Wenger envisioned him fulfilling at the club. Will credit Mo with being maybe an average defender in midfield. While his value as a shield and pseudo-CB in our defensive third seems understated. Certain Arteta recognizes Elneny for the similarities in how he himself manned that position for Arsenal not so long ago.

    Without Mo in that safety valve position in playing out from the back? We’d have likely had to quit that tactic altogether. Can’t think of another player who so consistently receives a pass under pressure (in a most dangerous spot)– making first touch decisions with almost unerring accuracy.

    I think Mo sticks with Arsenal for the foreseeable future. What we call a ‘glue guy’ over here. Holds things together.


  • Spot on jw1! Mo has been really impressive this season. I think Mo and Partey our best DM pairing at the moment, with Partey slightly more advanced, as he has been in the games he has managed to play. Xhaka the least mobile of the three but he does control the tempo of play well, as Total Arsenal has indicated.

    Candidates for 4th DM at the moment are AMN and Ceballos. Dani has had some pretty impressive games for us but it is not clear that the present system suits him. He is box to box, rather than a DM. But sounds like he wants to go back to Spain, so no real point investing more game time in him if others are fit. And this leaves AMN. Again greater skill set than Mo, but Arteta doesn’t trust him. I would like to see him given a run in DM in the cup competitions, to see what he can do. I suspect his laid back way of carrying the ball makes Arteta nervous. I think lots of us confused why he is not given a run at right back too: by far our best option in that position. Can see him leaving too if he doesn’t get more game time.
    Apologies for long post!!

  • So FA cup ties are both away, most likely to be Southampton and then Wolves. Tough games for us that will need a lot of first team players.

  • Sam good comment, it may just be that Arteta feels Ainsley is not ready for what is needed on the pitch. We see a good player with potential but Mikel is much closer to him.

  • Happy New Year to you all

    I’m happy to keep Elneny around, he’s a very good player. and Frankly(!!) you are spot on about the tightness of his receiving and passing around our own box. I love AMN, but I honestly wouldn’t trust him in that role. He has to get a turn at RB soon though.

    People ignoring all the positives about Xhaka…lol

  • I am also a huge fan of Xhaka. I think he has a good vision, capable of precise yet fast passes that won’t slow down the counterattack (this is a very rare skill, not just at Arsenal), and he can be dangerous from distance and set pieces. Plus he can play a makeshift LB is our LB/LWB goes too ‘deep into enemy territory’, and need someone to cover him for the occasional counterattacks.

    But this post is not not about Granit (who is great in the Swiss national team both playing and leadership-wise). Elneny is an interesting question, and while my immediate reaction would have been “sell him, if some club is willing to play 5-8M for him”, after a quick research I’m lo longer convinced.

    I think we had only 4 really good games this season. The Community Shield victory, the first round win over Fulham, plus when defeated MU at Old Trafford and Chelsea at the Emirates. (Our 0:4 victory at WBA was also good, but a Sam Allardyce team is closer to EL level than PL.) Anyway, did you know that only 2 players started all 4? And played for the entire 360 minutes? No, Leno, Bellerin, Saka, Auba and Laca played only 3. 🙂 It is Holding and Elneny who were there in our brightest moments.

    I think TA collected his strong suits really well in the article, except from the “progressive passes whenever possible”, as in my perception Mo prefers to pick the short, quick side pass over the progressive one every day of the week and twice on Sunday. That explains his great passing accuracy as well.
    I don’t think he would be our #2 or #3 midfielder, as in my opinion the ‘fitness for use’ depends on the opponent. Elneny is close to useless against a team not interested in ball possession – as we could see against Burnley and Brighton where he got the lowest rating among any Arsenal players on the pitch for 90 minutes – but really useful against teams with capable midfield, as he demonstrated against Liverpool, MU and Chelsea.
    So the real question is: shall we change formation depending on the opponent, or only swap players? Because if we prefer the latter, then we must keep Mo. Him and Partey could form a strong double pivot engine in front of a back 4. But if we switch to 3-4-3, then probably we can manage with 3 CBs supported by a LWB-RWB pair, so I would rather go with 2 from Ceballos/Partey/Xhaka and no #10 (AM).

    Based on the remaining fixtures, we can survive without Elneny, as we have Thomas, Dani and Granit, plus we can send Luiz, Chambers into battle as DMs, and we can count on the services of young Cottrell and Azeez if needed. And at the end of the season we should have Torreira and Guendouzi back, whom are both capable of playing at a high level when their best roles are identified at last.
    Nevertheless Elneny is a great guy, with a friendly personality, who has a year and a half on his contract. We can go into the pre-season with 7 central midfielders, but I’m for squad trimming. Again, it depends whether Arsenal want (and can!) work out a Ceballos deal, and if there are futures for Torreira and Guendouzi with us. But I would rather send Willock on loan and keep 4 out of Thomas, Granit, Matteo, Dani, Lucas and Mo in that priority, until the next generation of CMs are ready to play for the first team.

  • I’ve been very impressed with Mo and totally agree with jw1. I think the point of playing Xhaka and/or Luis in the team would be their ability to play a long incisive pass over the top for PEA and our other forwards to run onto. However, something has been holding them back lately, expecially Xhaka. Maybe that is due to Arteta but ,if we are not going to use that weapon I would rather have someone else in midfield, he’s a loose cannon and likely to do something to do something stupid, like most of his red cards. It seems that Arteta is reluctant to trust his youngsters as starters unless his hand is forced with sickness or suspensions. This is how ESR got his chance and he’s been a revelation and solved so many issues for Arteta. I’m hoping that might change Arteta’s approach. That said the youngsters have to take their chance when they get it, Nelson and Willock were disappointing against the barcodes and I hope that doesn’t hold them back.

  • Xhaka.El Neny – neither are Champions League quality players, there’s no way they would play for Liverpool/MANC, etc.

    Mo has a high pass rating since they are 12 yard passes out to the wing or back to the D that end up going nowhere. He’s a last 15 minutes of the game type of player when you want to close out a win.

    Arsenal should not be playing a double pivot. Partey is world class DM his partners should be attacking like Emi and Dani. This would be great in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond.

  • Haven’t seen anybody mention Guendouzi but he has done pretty wöell in Hertha Berlin and considering his age I think he has a lot of potential. He is much better at transporting the ball forward then all the midfielders we’ve been playing this season and the lack of that is one of the reason that we’ve been unable to create chances. I think Arteta should bring him back and try to play him alongside Partey. I do agree that Elneny is a keeper and an excellent squad planer. Willock would benefit from a loan but Xhaka has to go. I can’t believe that we chose him over Kante and even had to pay more for him then Chelsea did for Kante. The fact that he is playing while Ceballos is on the bench make me fume.
    I’ve always liked Torreira very much but it doesn’t look like he is a part of Artetas future plans.
    So if we’re not buying any midfielders I think we should bring back Guendouzi and ship Willock out on loan.

  • Good comment, PB. I reckon Mohamed can play in all games. The teams that sit back are only dangerous on the counter, so we can have Mo sit a bit deeper and Granit or Partey push behind the three. His ability to pass the ball out from the back is only matched by Xhaka, so I think he is third in line.

  • Cheers OX10, we are indeed playing less over the top balls. With the new formation it seems Arteta prefers to pass our way through more. A combo is probably best.

  • Ewil, Guendouzi is a player I am less convinced about than you are. Yes he likes to run with the ball but his mind is much slower than Xhaka’s and he actually slows us down by holding on to the ball too long. Plus he has poor defensive awareness imo.

  • I like Elneny because he’s not exciting he does.one thing which sets him apart from other midfielder….he passed the ball forward.

  • I would give Maitland-Niles a crack in the double pivot, I would also bring back torreira and guendozi, when ceballos leaves. That would give us 5 options in there. I would sell Soares and give chambers another crack at being bellerins understudy. I would sell Luiz mustafi and Sokratis to give holding Gabriel Mari and chambers more time to form partnerships. In the summer being back Ballard and saliba to increase the options. Move Willian on too, it simply hasn’t worked and neither has Pepe.

  • This is a shocking article. The moment i read block as blog in the first paragraph i knew it could only go downhill. The writer must have a sense of romanticism with Elneny’s hair or name, or both, because i can’t find another reason to explain the bias in the article. Or maybe he didn’t watch the Newcastle FA Cup game, where Elneny amped up his pass completion stats by turning almost every attacking possibility into a backpass to the centre backs, making his midfield partners,wingers and full backs backtrack into their own half almost every time they were supposed to charge the other way. The moments he does try to drive forward are rare, but welcomed. And Arteta knows, he really does know, Elneny is only playing because they aren’t better midfielders at the club in the position. No disrespect to Elneny, but an accolade like Mr Tidy could be associated with a in prime Sergio Busquets, Michael Carrick or Claude Makelele, but not Mo Elneny.

  • Well that post got the blog a lot of new interest Total and whole lot of new views on certain players.

    Not sure that I can add much more, Elneny and Partey did the job at Old Trafford so we know that they work as a pair. Xhaka will never win a popularity contest but I think he still has an important role to play until the club can afford to finance another Partey level upgrade.

    Torrieira is too slight and is certain to be moved on. Ceballos will return to Spain leaving behind some good memories but the realisation that he isn’t and never will be the answer. Elneny is worth keeping around, he’s more Grimandi than Petit but he’s reliable, as and when he’s needed and that’s good enough for me. Guendouzi needs to seriously grow up, he could be a very effective player for us still, but he really needs to realise that he’s doing an adult job now and to therefore act and play accordingly.
    Willock needs a loan and some more patience.

    If Arsenal are to bring in another midfielder then I’d like it to be Julian Brandt, but that’s looking unlikely.

  • Wonderful to see Sharkey!

    Great contributions from Ewil, Cruz gunner.

    Cruz made my the point I was about to post about ElNenys pass%.
    I’ll say it my way too, that passing stat is more of an indictment than a badge of honor. If we had a proper big club owner, from this squad exactly, we should add one more dynamic midfielder and one CAM.. right now.

    In that case, Elneny shouldn’t make the bench except for injuries. Handy for dm in carabao, Europa group stages.

    From yesterdays comments, I noticed Eris agrees with me about Guendouzi and I like how Ewil phrased it today. Guendo is always moving forward or passing forward, and he absorbs a lot of fouls which is not bad either + he bounces right up and is passing forward immediately, not writhing in fake pain, slowing down our game, which 90% of pro footballers do. I’ll be disgusted if we throw him away.

    II think Xhaka is a very good player, but needs to be used exactly correctly, or else his flaws shine or he has very little impact. There are some games he should not be starting, maybe not even on the bench. But he’s more than good enough to play the majority of games. It’s our lack of depth that hurts a lot of our guys. I feel bad that they’re overplayed to a point of fatigue or lack of freshness. One more point, he should take almost all of our free kicks, because even when he misses, it’s not by much. Not many can say that.

    Total Arsenal quote time:

    “I get the slowness point of view but the quickest thing on the pitch is the ball and Xhaka knows how and when to make it move best for the team.”

    Wise, and really rings true when you watch him play.

  • Iam for keeping Mo in the team. He is one player who doesn’t hide, works hard and always available for Leno and CBs for an outlet. We need someone like that in the team. We also need to think what Arteta asks him to do and that’s why he has been playing regularly I guess. He may be capable of making adventurous passes but may be that’s not his role. Atleast he is more value for money than Willian and Pepe and I don’t have problem with such players. Team sports demand such players.
    Depending on what we do with Dani, Tor and Guen in the summer Mos future will need to be decided. That thing that I am unconvinced is that Guen may not prefer to stay at Arsenal considering all that I have read about his ego.

  • Lol MG, you should become our spell checker! 😁

    Yes I did watch Mo perform v NC and he was v tidy. Why compare him to those non Arsenal players?

  • You summed it up well, Kev. Elneny is great back up and he has really helped us through a difficult period. Also agreed re XhakA. For his sake, I hope he chooses a new club soon. One where he is much more appreciated.

  • Cheers J 😎

    I knew you would have a passionate response. I guess we look different at what defensively is required. The thought of Guendouzi having to play under that sort of pressure when we are playing out from the back gives me the heevies. I get what you rate about Guendo and I like that too but we just can’t afford the gaps he leaves behind. Even Partey v Spuddies left gaps behind when he tried to aid the attack and it weakened us.

    The good news is that we play 4-2-3-1 now with aggressive full backs, so allowing the DMs to play more Conservative is both sensible and effective imo. Hence Elneny is playing v tidy right now and deserves his place in tesm/on the bench.

  • That’s it, Madhu. Arteta and Mikel seem to be on the same wavelength and that doesn’t seem to have happened with the likes of Torreira, Guendouzi or Ceballos (as yet).

  • I think you meant to say that Arteta and Mo are on the same wavelength TA! I would hope that Arteta and Mikel are on the same wavelength! I totally agree with what you have said about Guendouzi. I am worried that he has an over-inflated ego but, he is young and if he is able to adopt a more humble approach prepared to listen to his coaches he may yet fulfil his potential with us or elsewhere.

  • Personally think Elneny has been a revelation this season. He’s doing a vital job and doing it very well.

    He’s not at the same level, but he reminds me of Gilberto, in that no one really thought he was any good until he got injured and we collapsed.

    In the long term I’d like to improve on him, but for now I’d be choosing a double pivot of him and Partey. Probably with ESR or Ceballos in front.

  • Re Guendouzi, I hope so too but he seems to be the overconfident type who only listens to the voice below the curls…

    If he is to return I would like to see played in the ‘three’ behind the CF btw

  • Somehow the usual commentators here mostly favour Xhaka, and I am one of them.

    In a team, you do not see just one player’s pros and cons, rather, you see what they can bring to the team, and which type of players he work best with around him. Xhaka is a team player, and Elneny works well with him, as is Ceballos. They are the ones that moves the ball forward. Xhaka mainly takes the balls and ping them sideways or backwards, but when he sees chances he will gladly break the defence.

    So, i will say to the new commentators here: “He will stay as long as there is a manager that believes in him”.

  • It’s looking as if Leeds will agree to step aside to allow Shrewsbury to play Southampton in their rearranged 3rd round cup tie, that would mean Southampton playing 4 games in 10 days between the 16th and 26th and Arsenal playing 3 games in 8 days between the 18th and 26th of January. That’s assuming that Southampton can overcome a WuFlu ravaged Shrewsbury.

    I know we’re living through strange times but from a selfish perspective I’m loving all this football…

    Looking forward to seeing Daniel Ballard and TJJ performing against Premier opposition in the next round of the FAC.

  • I agree Total, I mean everyone is fit so touch wood Arteta can mix n match (opps forgot about Martinelli) and Southampton will need to do the same so it’s up for grabs.

    It concerns me Total that there are elements in the media who seem to be driving a narrative of cancelling the season during this period, because that exactly not what anyone should be thinking of, the population needs some semblance on normality to take our minds off of this rubbish period we’re living through and cancelling football would only darken the general mood.

    Steve Bruce suggested it a few days ago and hopefully not for selfish reasons because Newcastle have a long injury list, but I think he is wrong. We all need something to talk about other than people getting ill and the NHS otherwise we’ll be even more depressed than we are now. Just because we don’t think about those important issues 24/7 and rattle on about doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the current situation.

  • Hi Total,

    Your post has attracted a wonderful array of thoughts and opinions.

    My contribution is pretty basic, I like both players and feel they nave a long term place in the Arsenal squad. Most people don’t consider them to be top class – but in my opinion not all players in a squad need to be “top class”..

    Over the years many of our squads have contained journeymen whose contribution to the team has been indispensable to the clubs overall achievements. I would keep them both for the foreseeable future as they are always willing and able to step into the team without causing any obvious weaknesses.

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