Don’t worry readers; I am not going down the well-trodden Alex Obi Wan path, tempting though it maybe. I jumped on the Iwobi space cruiser in January to be fair and there is no doubt his addition on the left with Alexis Sanchez shifting to the right is part of the better balance story.
Iwobi, Alexis and Mesut Ozil are all playmakers and are certainly not conventional wingers, with the width in the main coming from Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal on the overlap. Even if Iwobi or Sanchez do end up on the outside and in a position to cross the ball, that will now be a cutback or an arrowed pass to pick out an arriving Danny Welbeck or Ozil, not a traditional cross looking for the head of Olivier Giroud. Of course we saw this much in evidence on Saturday with Alexis cutting back a ball expertly in the path of his young colleague to finish with aplomb.
Now the greater balance in the ‘Arsenal Force’ comes from a different central midfield base which is allowing the advanced four to be the force with less concern over defensive duties. Yes our wide men will track back and of course this is expected of them, but the Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny axis just has a solidity about it that gives greater reassurance. It certainly allows Bellerin and Monreal more freedom knowing that the midfield partnership has a more disciplined approach.
From now until the end of the season, Arsenal just have to win every game and see where it takes them and an excellent place to start in search of this end is to not concede goals. Elneny has settled into the hurly burly of the Premier League almost instantly and I am sure Arsene Wenger may be asking himself why he waited so long to trust him regularly in the league.
He is the perfect foil for Coquelin and they seem to have developed a superb understanding of what is required of each other. Watching closely on Saturday, at times it was hard to say which of the two was actually the deeper lying of the two. Yes it is Coquelin, but if the Frenchman did advance with the ball or was linking with one of his advanced colleagues, then Elneny would instantly sit back.
I hear that those in the coaching set-up are hugely impressed with Elneny and with his blossoming partnership with Coquelin, which is partly why I take the Granit Xhaka links with a huge pinch of salt. The phrase ‘incredible engine’ has often been used in football and in Arsenal’s case more often than not it is applied to Aaron Ramsey. Well the Welshman has been ‘out engined’ by his new Egyptian team mate, but more crucially Elneny has an engine with the on-board computer that Aaron’s often does not have.
Not only does Mo know where to run to be best positioned to receive the ball, but like the best players, he recycles it quickly and efficiently. This does not come from just being quick, it comes from having already assessed his options before receipt of the football. That is an extremely bold claim after two months, but it is the way it appears to me so far. Breaking a record for the number of passes in a Premier League match on Saturday does not evidence he is a genius, but it does suggest he is very comfortable with the ball and has a keen recognition that when you play for Arsenal ball retention and swift movement of the football is key.
With Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini centrally, we had lost this and with Coquelin and Elneny we have it back. In the 4-2-3-1 formation that Wenger rarely waivers from, it works best with fluid movement and fast passing. The new central pairing gives us the elements of control and discipline and tempo we had lost when we lost Santi Cazorla and the new front four now have the licence to do their thing! The solid base provides the platform for the fluidity and interchange in the three behind Welbeck and the full-backs are also benefiting so long may it continue.