Arsenal talisman Bukayo Saka is not the most followed Gunner on Instagram (2.6 million followers (opens in new tab)), despite exploits with England. It’s not Emile Smith Rowe (opens in new tab) either (926k), who Saka shares a chant with. The most capped star at Colney, Granit Xhaka (opens in new tab), has 2.3m; England defender Ben White (opens in new tab) has 589k. Captain Alexandre Lacazette (opens in new tab) has over 3m – but he’s still not top of the influencer stakes.
That accolade goes to 4.4m-strong Mohamed Elneny (opens in new tab), who was signed for just over £3m, one austere January over six years ago. He’s yet to top 100 appearances in the league for Arsenal and he’s already been on loan once, been given the No.4 and then had it ripped from his back in favour of a lower-profile No.25. Most fans would probably have forgotten he was even in the squad when he left for the Africa Cup of Nations – let alone the fact that as of this summer, he was free to leave north London.
Weird, eh? Elneny’s vast following no doubt owes a little to the fact that he’s regularly snapped, tagged and seen with the best footballer on Earth at international level. But it’s perhaps reassuring that so many appreciate the Egyptian midfielder – digitally at least – even if so many of his hoard of followers don’t actively support Arsenal.
Elneny could well have been the surprise of the season at the Emirates Stadium, were it not for the fact that almost every one of Arteta’s summer signings was derided for not being good enough before looking much better than expected. In the absence of Thomas Partey, the long-serving DM stepped into the breach – and his performances were exactly what was needed: calm, confident and controlling against the likes of Manchester United and Leeds.
This is a midfielder, by the way, who Arsenal seemingly haven’t been able to shift for around 10 transfer windows. A midfielder who has been usurped in the pecking order by Partey, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Granit Xhaka during his time in north London – not to mention flashes in pans, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira: neither of whom are still at the Emirates Stadium.
Elneny has so far outlasted every last one of the new midfield generals that Arsenal thought would replace him. And over the last few weeks, he’s performed as well, if not better, than most of them have mustered in red and white.
Were you to design a No.6 for Arteta’s 4-3-3, you would fashion a player of the Egyptian’s build – physical, yet mobile – and able to break up play. Elneny has long been as adventurous as an agoraphobic: but really, that’s exactly what Arsenal have needed post-Partey. This is a young side, somewhat jittery in build-up, have been plagued by individual mistakes for years. Partey has a habit of forcing vertical balls whenever his side are under the kosh – yet his understudy does no such thing, recycling possession with the care that no one else in the team shows.
His possession-holding statistics are unbelievable. Elneny was more careful with the ball than prime Cazorla – though admittedly, the Spaniard always had loftier ambitions with what to do with it – and has been magnificent in recent weeks at shielding the ball and moving it on to the likes of Xhaka and Odegaard.
Yet re-signing the Egyptian doesn't hamper them in their quest for new midfielders. Youri Tielemans may yet join; Sambi Lokonga may yet come good. Elneny is merely a comfort blanket whenever needed who has proved his worth against the top sides.
And he doesn’t even want to leave. Recent comments about how he doesn’t mind playing a squad role in this team point to the kind of character that’s perhaps needed after the jettisoning of big-wage stars and those unhappy with keeping bench. Elneny is a true team player: every respect of the definition.
We could all do with an Elneny in life: someone who keeps us honest, someone who gets the best out of us, someone who may not often win us a football match but will sure as hell never be the reason it’s lost. He may never be the star that 4.4m fans tune in for every week – but six years into his Arsenal career, he feels more at home than he ever has.
Arsenal transfer stories
The rumour mill is going into overdrive over who Arsenal will bring in to fill the centre-forward spot in the team next season. Tammy Abraham has been heavily linked since last summer with those whispers refusing to go away, Ivan Toney has entered the frame as an option, while "the new Thierry Henry" has been touted.
Gabriel Jesus is a big rumour doing the rounds right now, as is Darwin Nunez, who Manchester United are reportedly closer to signing. One Brazilian wonderkid is also apparently in talks.
Elsewhere at the Emirates, Mikel Arteta has spoken openly over his doubts taking the Gunners job and Vagner Love has chatted exclusively to FFT about the move to Arsenal under Wenger that very nearly happened for him in the noughties.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT.
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