92.4 – That’s the percent of passes that Mohamed Elneny completed in the Europa League last year. And that was the only number I read in an article with a headline similar to mine. His passing rate was compared favorably to Flamini and Coquelin but the problem is that it’s a number that proves absolutely nothing.
The facts are that anyone taking Elneny’s Europa League stats and saying that they prove anything is simply selling you clicks. Maybe you like to click for people. I’m not going to judge.
I actually suspect that these people are anti-stats. These writers have to know that comparing two players from two different teams playing in two different competitions, with one of the players having a sample of 5, without any context of how their respective teams play doesn’t tell us much about the two players.
That last bit about “how teams play” is very important when looking at player stats. For example, Man U and Arsenal are #1 and #2 in terms of possession, and as you know possession is essentially just passing. So, since both teams are passing the ball more you’d think that they don’t intercept the ball as much, but Arsenal are 4th in the League (they usually lead the League) in interceptions with 19 per game and Man U are 13th with 15.3. If you were to look at any of the Man U players interception numbers and try to make a comparison to an Arsenal player, you’d be comparing players who are playing on teams with two different playing styles.
A similar thing happens with Elneny and Basel. Basel is 10th in the Europa League in possession with 56%, but they are 32nd in interceptions per game. Unlike Arsenal, they don’t play the passing lanes as much on defense and as a result all of their player’s interceptions numbers are low. So, comparing Elneny’s 2 interceptions per game to Coquelin’s 2.7 doesn’t work as a straight across comparison.
It doesn’t even necessarily work as a percentage. Elneny intercepts about 11% of his team’s interceptions while Coquelin about 14%. Does that mean Elneny won’t intercept the same number as Coquelin? I wouldn’t bet on it. Wenger will make Elneny play the way he wants. That will mean being more aggressive going for the interceptions.
Similar with tackles, again, Basel have 56% of possession just 0.7% less than Tottenham. But Spurs have a very aggressive pressing style and are 4th in the EL in tackles, while Basel are 39th! So, looking at Elneny’s tackle stats, where he averages just 2.4 tackles per game, and comparing them to Coquelin, who averages 3.4 tackles per game is like comparing.. uhh.. two different things.
You can look a little more closely at Elneny’s stats and see some things that are interesting. For example, he has made 12/14 tackles this season in the Europa League. A high percentage of tackling is very good. And it’s especially good because 2 of his successful tackles were in the 18 yard box. It’s a small sample, but shows great promise as a player who gets back and puts in the kind of last ditch tackles that have made Coquelin a fan favorite.
As for Elneny’s passing stats mentioned at the top of the piece he is, of course, good at that. More important than his 92.4% overall pass completion rate is the fact that he completes 75% of his long passes. They do have a target man who wins 4 aerials a game but that’s not at all like Liverpool who have Benteke winning 6 per game. So, 75% long passing indicates someone who is talented with the long pass. This is important because some people see Elneny as the long-term replacement for Arteta and the Arsenal captain in his heyday (two years ago) averaged 86% long passing.
Elneny’s passing stats also have another weird quirk: he only made one sideways pass in all five games this Europa League campaign. 1/460 passes sideways, all the rest were forward or backward. I can’t tell whether that’s just how Basel play, super vertical, or whether the stats keeper just considered all of his passes to be vertical but that strikes me as slightly odd.
All of this, however, is based on just five Europa League games. We don’t know how Elneny will perform once he’s dropped into the cauldron of blood and spikes that is the Premier League. Michael Yokhin’s article for ESPN paints the picture of a quiet player who just loves football and doesn’t like to court controversy, which for some reason (combined with his very unassuming stats) reminds me a lot of Gilberto. According to the interview in Aargauer Zeitung (some parts quoted in the ESPN article) he’s a devout family man and very religious. But I think the best part of that interview was the suggestion that he loves to sacrifice himself for the team:
Running is part of my job, I like to permanently be in motion. As a child I often played ten hours or even longer in the street – I think there I learned to run nonstop. My duty is to the team to help with my strengths. And if my colleagues see how much I run, then they automatically run even more.
More than the stats, which look good even if the sample is small, it’s the fact that he wants to work hard for his team and to lead by example which I think will get him through to the next level.
Elneny has drawn a lot of comparisons over the last few weeks, without anyone seeing him play a single minute of football, but if I were to compare him to anyone it would be Arsenal’s Gilberto. An unassuming character with the talent to get the job done.
Exactly the kind of player Arsenal need.