Arsenal lost Thomas Partey in the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace. It was a moment which threatened to cost the Gunners their top-four hopes. The subsequent two matches against Brighton and Southampton saw the young Albert Sambi Lokonga come in but ultimately he failed to fulfill the shoes of the Ghanaian.
Mikel Arteta made a big decision in order to address Partey’s prolonged absence in the away trip to Chelsea. In a game where Arsenal were not expected to get anything, especially after three successive defeats, the Gunners came away with a 4-2 win with Mohamed Elneny putting in an excellent performance having been given the nod by the manager.
Arteta has stuck with Elneny despite plenty of doubts surrounding the Egyptian international. Elneny has been criticized for being too passive and sideways with his passing from him. However, Arteta has clearly been coaching the experienced midfielder to level up his game.
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Mikel Arteta would have hoped to plan to face Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby with Thomas Partey available. However, with the stalwart midfielder out, Arteta is coaching a new plan centered around everything Partey brings and channeling it through Elneny.
Spurs may have been buoyed by seeing the season-ending news for Partey, however, Elneny has more than filled the void. In fact, he, along with Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka, have been Arsenal’s most crucial players in this four-game winning run.
Evidence of what Elneny has changed about his game can be seen in his passing. If we compare Thomas Partey’s distribution performance in the 1-0 win away at Aston Villa, for which he was voted man of the match, to Elneny’s passing against Leeds United yesterday, the similarities are clear.
Whilst Elneny attempts 32 more passes than Partey between the two games, you can notice how the overall trend of passes between the pair is very similar. Within these two images, Partey makes six passes into the final third making five of them reach the target, compared to Elneny who attempts eleven with nine being accurate.
Both players attempted two passes into the box also. Each had a 50% success rate, Elneny’s however led to a clear goalscoring opportunity for Odegaard who should have hit the target with his strike.
The aforementioned pass to Arsenal’s captain is highlighted in the below graphic (top left). The range of different types of progressive passes have been a brilliant addition to Elneny’s game at a more frequent rate.
These are not examples of Elneny passes never attempted, but what Arteta has encouraged the midfielder to do is to be more frequent with them. The example against West Ham (bottom right) drew widespread praise as the lofted ball sent Nketiah on a counterattack that nearly ended in a goal.
Defensively Elneny has performed similarly to Partey too. Matching the number of defensive duels Partey made against Villa, seven, in the game with Leeds. Both players executed a 57% success rate in these duels. Partey made one more interception than Elneny, the same number of clearances but did foul twice more.
Elneny is producing higher average defensive actions than usual. For example, across the season in all competitions, Elneny makes 3.67 interceptions. However, against Chelsea and Manchester United he made a combined 18. His recoveries across the last four games are above his season average, as are his clearances from him.
Reports suggest that Elneny is now in talks with Arsenal over a new deal according to The Athletic. Arsenal want to add more quality to the midfield, however, having the balance of experience will be valuable as the team is improved and grows to cope with the rigors of a European campaign next season.
However, that is to be focused on at the end of the season. Next is the North London Derby and this Arteta plan to bring Thomas Partey’s impact to the match without his existing physical presence could be a defining factor in whether Arsenal succeed or not.