How Mohamed Elneny fits in Arsenal’s new 3-4-3 system
How close is Elneny to establishing himself as a starter at the Emirates? How does Arsenal’s personnel and possible transfer window activity affect his chances, a season away from the 2018 World Cup? Malek Shafei gives you his conclusion from this detailed analysis.
Towards the end of last season, followers of Arsenal witnessed the club switch formation for the first time in many years. For the past few years Arsene Wenger would field teams in the traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, but in April after a shocking loss to Crystal Palace, Wenger switched to the popular 3-4-3 formation. How will Mohamed Elneny fit under this new style of play for the Gunners?
In Arsenal’s early season 4-2-3-1 shape, the team had many issues. One being the lack of central occupation. A strong central occupation is naturally important due to the advantages it has in connections. By occupying the center, teams can switch the ball through it to different areas of the field if they cannot break through in the initial area.
As opposed to four-at-the-back formations where the defense is left vulnerable if the fullbacks push forward to attack, in the 3-4-3 formation, the midfielders are allowed to feed the ball to the wingback to advance the play. Both the 4-2-3-1 and the 3-4-3 field two central midfielders. But in the 3-4-3 formation the central midfielders are tasked with creating a stable structure to connect possession from the flanks to the ball-near midfielder; who often moves in a way to create a diamond shape. This shape, theoretically, offers the ball-carrying wing-back a diagonally forward and backwards pass as well as a simple sideways pass back infield. As such, the ball-near midfielder is tasked with moving into the nearby half space to offer the sideways pass.
This eliminates the need for the central midfielders to play long passes and try to be extremely creative. Elneny was slated many times during the last two seasons for being “simple” and not being creative enough as he opted to play the simple sideways passes.
Chelsea’s 2016/2017 title winning campaign showed that the central midfielders (Kante and Matic) did not have to be technically gifted and creative, rather they were “no-nonsense” ball winning midfielders. This does not bode well for players competing for a spot in the Arsenal defensive midfield (DM) role, such as Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.
As for the starters of the previous season, Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin, they leave room to be desired as ideal DMs in the 3-4-3 system. During the matches Arsenal played with the 3-4-3 formation, Wenger did not seem to fancy Coquelin as he only played in six games. He only started in one of those games. In the little time he played, he averaged a 6.5 rating, as per WhoScored. When Coquelin did not play, Aaron Ramsey took up the DM role.
Elneny cutting his teeth in preseason
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Xhaka was fielded as the counterpart to Ramsey, in midfield. He is a good defensive player and can also develop attacks but he lacks speed and discipline. Last season, he had the same amount of red cards as assists which is not ideal coming from the “creative” midfielder. Xhaka also accumulated 11 yellow cards in all competitions last season.
Arsenal have been linked to purchasing a new midfielder to play alongside Xhaka, and it appears increasingly likely that we will see at least one of Coquelin, Ramsey and Wilshere erased from Arsenal’s books.
Elneny lacks a bit of the defensive ability that someone like Coquelin possesses and has slightly less attacking prowess than players like Ramsey or Xhaka. But it is hard to shy away from his biggest strength in the Premier League; passing accuracy. Had Elneny qualified for final season standings (did not play enough games), he would have had the highest passing percentage in the league at 92.9%, as per WhoScored.
Should either Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez be sold, we could see Ramsey fill their shoes in the attacking midfield role in the 3-4-3 formation. He seems to be a better fit in an attacking position.
If Ramsey were to go upfield, it would be left between Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny to partner with Granit Xhaka in the midfield. It will take many impressive performances in training and substitute appearances for Elneny to start based on merit. The Egyptian must also be ready to play at his best in the event that Xhaka or Coquelin are not able to start. A few convincing performances as a starter would almost force Arsene Wenger’s hand to give Mohamed a place as a regular starter.
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