Arsene Wenger says Mohamed Elneny proved he has what it takes to help Arsenal out at centre-back having impressed in the role during Arsenal’s pre-season.
Unable to call on Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Gabriel and Calum Chambers, the boss asked the Egypt international to make up the numbers in the Gunners three-man defence for matches in Australia and China.
While there’s no suggestion the midfielder will be moved into defence on a permanent basis, Wenger liked what he saw from ever-willing 25-year-old.
“Elneny is a player who has a fantastic mentality and attitude, and his main target is to help the team,” he told Arsenal Player. “When he plays there [as a centre-back], of course he does extremely well.
“Of course [he needs to learn the defensive side], but I always felt that a good central midfielder can be a good centre back. With the fact of course that when you’re playing in the back four you have to be decisive in the challenges, you have a bit more flexibility in the middle of a back three. He can do that.
“Overall on tour, I played players like Elneny in a back three and he coped very well. Maitland-Niles sometimes played at centre back as well, even in the big games against Chelsea.”
Assuming there are no injuries there’s a chance Arsenal could start the season with Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal in the centre of defence with Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac on the flanks.
Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding will provide added competition once they’ve done a couple of weeks of fitness work. A decision is yet to be taken over the future of Calum Chambers who could be allowed to leave, while Gabriel is still sidelined with the injury picked up on the final day of the Premier League season.
“I would say that Gabriel is still a few weeks away because he has an inflammation of his bone,” said of the Brazilian.
The boss also had an update on a couple of other long-term absentees.
“Jack Wilshere is close to coming back to training. Santi Cazorla, it is difficult to set a definite date but he is getting better every day. Overall those are the main injuries we have. Everyone else is back to fitness.”