Arsenal appear to be on the verge of being unusually clinical in the transfer market. Over the past few years, the Gunners have gained a reputation for dallying during the window, leading to a couple of dramatic deadline day swoops. However, this time around they appear to have moved much of their business along before the window even opens: if reports are to be believed, they are already close to the signing of Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny from FC Basel.
Arsenal fans will be delighted to see Arsene Wenger act so quickly to remedy an imbalance in their squad. With Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere all currently sidelined, the Gunners are woefully short of central midfielders. In recent weeks, Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey have held the fort, but predictably Flamini has since succumbed to injury too. In their last league outing against Bournemouth, defender Calum Chambers had to be repurposed as a holding player to cover the Frenchman’s absence.
Once his work permit comes through and the deal is sealed, Elneny will provide an immediate reprieve for Arsenal’s stretched squad. The Swiss league doesn’t get too much coverage on these isles, so most Gunners fans are in the dark as to the sort of player they’re acquiring.
Informed opinion describes a true ‘box-to-box’ midfielder; someone prepared to use his huge reserves of stamina to cover enormous amounts of ground. Perhaps the player puts it best: ”Running is part of my job, and I like to be in motion," told Aargauer Zeitung (h/t ESPN). "As a child, I often played for 10 hours on the street, and that's where I learned to run nonstop in the heat. I have to help the team with my strengths. When my teammates see me running, they run more themselves as well."
That’s not to suggest he’s bereft of technical ability. There is a story doing the rounds that Elneny’s father used to force his son to sleep with a football by his side in an attempt to foster a connection between the youngster and his chosen craft. That appears to have paid dividends, with Elneny now well-regarded for his distribution as well as his long range shooting.
It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Wenger allows Elneny the box-to-box freedom he’s enjoyed at Basel once he arrives in London. At the moment, Arsenal’s greatest need is for a more disciplined player to replace Coquelin. Wenger has a rich history of adjusting players positions, and perhaps in Elneny he sees the qualities of a great holding player in the making.
There may be further additions beyond the Egyptian. Wenger seems keen to stress that he will be busy in this window, and another injury set-back to Danny Welbeck could convince him to make a move in the attacking department.
What’s certain is that Arsenal will be getting a player who is ready to make an immediate contribution to their cause. There is no shortage of experience here: at 23, Elneny already has 37 appearances in UEFA competitions to his name. If the paperwork is completed in time, it would be no great surprise to see him handed a first-team debut in the FA Cup tie at home to Sunderland on January 9. If Elneny impresses, there’s nothing to suggest he could not keep his place in the side. Alongside Ramsey, he could form a dynamic duo to see Arsenal through until Coquelin’s return.