After Wednesday night’s convincing 3-0 victory for Arsenal against London neighbours West Ham, there was lots of talk about how Mohammed Elneny seemed to be a different player. Many an article has been written about the reinvention of the Egyptian international’s play, how he seemed to be everywhere during the game, be that breaking up attacks in his own half or powering forward in his opponent’s half.
What many didn’t mention was the effect he had on Granit Xhaka and importantly Mesut Ozil. Xhaka turned in what was probably his best performance in an Arsenal, keeping the game ticking over and spraying accurate passes all over the pitch. Mesut Ozil specifically in the second half was near unplayable, finally back to somewhere near his best, displaying his unparalleled visionary passing and even getting on the score sheet himself.
Ozil back to his old self
A quick reminder of the kind of player we are talking about here, Mesut Ozil is a World Cup, German Cup, Spanish Cup and La Liga winning Superstar. Mesut Ozil is the only player to have more assists while playing in Spain than Lionel Messi, a player so highly valued by the Real Madrid fans, they chanted bring back Ozil during the Gareth Bale unveiling. Yes, Mesut Ozil was classed as the second-best player for the biggest team in the world only to Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s funny how people forget all these things when he’s playing for Arsenal, mind you, he was one assist away from breaking the club record held by the legendary Thierry Henry.
So why was Ozil so good on Wednesday? And why is it to do with Elneny? To answer both questions, we must go back to Mesut Ozil’s best season at Real Madrid, the 2012/13 season, he recorded nine goals and 16 assists in a mere 31 league games, as well as one goal and four assists in 10 Champions league games. Ironically the manager to get the best out of the most Wenger type players was none other than Jose Mourinho. He saw Ozil for what he was, an attacker exclusively for the final third. Here is where Mohammed Elneny comes in, Ozil excelled at Real Madrid because he had Michael Essien and Sami Khedira behind him taking care of all the heavy lifting.
Many have called their roles the piano carriers, players that take care of the defending in midfield, leaving the creating and flair to the Ozil’s and Ronaldo’s of this world. During the game against West Ham, Arsenal finally had their very own piano carriers. Granit Xhaka and Mohammed Elneny were fantastic in breaking up attacks and then offloading it to an Ozil or a Sanchez, time & time again you’d see one of the two taking turns to sit back near the defence or picking the ball up and link up with the other.
Obviously, it’s very early to say if the pairing will be enough to spur Arsenal on or if Naby Keita or Radja Nainggolan could come in during the summer to take one of the places but for now at least, they may be on to something good this season.