Arsenal’s First Choice Central MF Pairing? You Vote

While we continue to bask in the warm glow of a deserved win at Old Trafford, it is time to consider whether Mikel Arteta is now close to knowing his preferred starting XI.

Have the outstanding performances of Thomas Partey and Mohammed Elneny agents Manchester United – both individually and as a pair – cemented their places as automatic starters?

It’s certainly tempting to jump on the ElPartey train after such a pleasing victory, but I would add a couple of notes of caution.

First, we have seen very little of Partey in an Arsenal shirt and of a Partey-Elneny axis in any game.

Second, it’s easy for we fans to get carried away with the most recent good performance. At times in the last couple of years we have lauded players like Mustafi and Xhaka who were previously on the naughty step; we have torn our hair out over David Luiz then sung his praises (in the FA Cup games in particular); Dani Ceballos was great, then a waste of space, then great again… Was Elneny’s Old Trafford performance a flash in the pan? Or a sign of a player who has finally found his place at Arsenal?

For today I’m ignoring wide midfielders and other formations (eg using Luiz as a holding midfielder) and working on the basis that El Patron will generally want to pick two central midfielders in most games.

His principal options are Partey, Elneny, Xhaka, Ceballos, Willock and Maitland-Niles.

You don’t have to agree with me (and you’ll have options to that effect below), but I am going to take it as a given that Partey is one of the first names on the team sheet, so the question becomes – who plays alongside him?

Elneny: even in his earlier spells as a fairly regular player for us I always liked Moptop Mo for one main reason: he hardly ever loses possession and his short passing game is excellent (I suppose that’s two reasons, isn’t it?). The downside was that he never seemed much of a ‘progressive’ player, often preferring to pass sideways or backwards. He has been more progressive minded in his most recent outings and I hadn’t really thought much about his athleticism previously, but his size is an asset and the clip of him sprinting to close down Man Utd players in the 91st minute on Sunday was an eye-opener.

Xhaka: how many words have been written about Granit? Most have been critical, particularly around the time last season when he threw off the captain’s armband and stormed off the pitch. I had sympathy for him then because I always hate it when one player becomes the lightning rod for fan dissatisfaction with the overall performance of the team. It looked like his Arsenal career was over, but Arteta brought him back and he was a crucial part of our run to FA Cup glory. He is slower than Elneny and gets around the pitch less well, but his passing range is greater.

Ceballos: Dani looked like the new Santi Cazorla in his first outing for Arsenal, then his form dipped (along with that of the whole team) under Emery before Arteta revived him. Like Xhaka, Ceballos was pivotal in our FA Cup win. He offers something different to Xhaka and Elneny in that he is tricksier, more forward-minded and has excellent close ball skills. He is also happy to put himself about, although he is less physically imposing than the other two.

Willock and Maitland-Niles: I certainly don’t want to discard either of these promising young players, but I think we have to accept that – for the moment – they are what the Americans call “role players” rather than serious options for our strongest starting XI.

So now it’s your turn to vote for your preferred central MF pairing.

If you vote for Partey-Elneny are you suffering from recency bias? Will that pairing really help solve our struggles at the attacking end of the park?

If you choose Xhaka-Ceballos is it because you’re still reliving our Wembley glories of a few months ago?



36 Responses to Arsenal’s First Choice Central MF Pairing? You Vote

  1. Chairman Gallant says:

    I would vote for a Partey and Xhaka Combo.That would be putting two bulls in our midfield. Two very strong and athletic and determined players.Partey can run for ninety minutes or more without getting tired.Xhaka on the other hand, would just sit back and spray passes and also defend when called upon. Partey is also very creative, and both players pack a long range shot. With the aggressiveness of the Premiership, a Partey / Xhaka combination would send chills into the spines of our opponents. Arteta should try it.

  2. Pete the Thirst says:

    Partey and Elneny every day of the week. The further from the team Xhaka is the better we will play.

    I’m sure Arteta wants to revert to a back 4. Gabriel & Holding looked another good combo. With a defensive minded midfielder, like Elneny, we could play an extra midfielder. Perhaps Ceballos, closer to the attackers.

  3. RockyLives says:

    Interesting call Chairman.

    And immediately countered by Pete… 🙂

    Just shows how we all see things so differently.

    Pete, I understand your reservations about Xhaka, but he was a key part of our FA Cup run and win… that’s not nothing.

  4. Luton Gooner says:

    I have voted Partey – Ceballos but it would entirely depend on the game. For the big ones, El-Partey is the way forward, with energy and athleticism to press as well as technical ability to beat the opposition press.

    But I think Partey-Ceballos is better against the majority of teams who will likely sit deep in a low block and we will need the forward passing abilities of both as well as their ability dribble past players.

  5. RockyLives says:

    Good points Luton. You’re not alone in going for that option.

  6. RA says:

    That is a very stimulating Post, Rocky, thank you.

    Stimulating? Well, apart from being so well written, by the doyen pf Post writing, it has made me think, carefully, how I can respond without causing unnecessary offence, or becoming embroiled in my own hubris. 😳

    I think Luton has hit the nail on the head, in that it is somewhat impractical to nominate players for permanent positions, as that would not provide the flexibility needed for playing certain teams, or for reacting to inevitable injuries.

    So in answer to your poll, I chose Partey Piece and El Neny.

    That left 3 other choices which featured Xhaka, and I could noting would not have him in the team, if I had the choice. He has improved of late, under Arteta’s instruction, but that was starting from a low base.
    [Enough said — even that might upset some].

    I suggest that the real midfield set up would revolve around Saka – Thomas P – El Nino, with Ceb, Nelson, Willock and AMN as back up, in case of injuries etc. However, I agree with you that the latter two will need to up their game if they want to be long term squad players.

  7. dawud muhammad says:

    I actually called for a Partey\Elneny pairing before the Man U game. I just think Elneny gives you most of Xhaka’s qualities with a better engine, he may lack Xhaka’s passing range, but he always offer himself as an option to his teammates, quicker moving the ball around in close quarters,he’s more willing to join the attack, is quicker getting up and down the pitch, and also not afraid to let it fly from distance as well

  8. RockyLives says:

    Dawud – I would not necessarily have thought Elneny was capable of doing so much, but based on some of his outings this season he is really changing people’s opinions of him (including mine).

    Redders – I think Xhaka has done well for us on a consistent basis (especially since his Arteta rehabilitation) but can I see him as an integral player in an Arsenal team that is capable of challenging for the league title or the Champs League? Sadly, I cannot.

  9. RA says:

    You never know, Rocky. He might prove me wrong.

    One of my reasons for not being happy with Xhaka is that he is always likely to get a yellow card, and that curtails his already abject tackling, as he is so slow that he cannot deal with counter-attacking opposition without fouling, because they just breeze past him.
    Red cards are always possible with such a player

    There are fans who rate him, of course, and I hope they are right — but I cannot see it myself.

  10. Aaron says:

    Oh, I like this post Rocky.

    Went with what you said, “recency bias”, but I really think it depends upon what the opposition is doing for Mikel.

    If we play against a side who plays a high line, but not continued press then I say Xhaka and Luiz because of long range and accurate passing.

    Yet, if encountering high line and continued high press than Elneny/Ceb axis depending upon how many games the other has played. Too many games for only 1 combo to play, that includes Partey.

    Club has players coming back from injury, so squad depth is increasing and Mikel will be able to rotate players more easily and keep them relatively fresh and hungry for a starting spot.

    Still buzzing from the shut out of manure on their grounds, only thing for me that would have made it better is if the stands were full.

    My guess when fans are safely allowed back in, we may get to see more of these complete victories with Mikel at the helm.

  11. LBG says:

    Surprise, surprise, I’m with Pete, all the way.
    The more interesting one for me now is who plays in front of them if for the moment we keep three at the back and have Bellerin/A M-N on the right and TIERNEY/Soares on the left.
    Predictably perhaps I would like to see Willian with Smith-Rowe as his apprentice and Willock as an alternative.
    Thanks for your post, Rocky.

  12. LB says:

    Ok, with hindsight the Elneny – Partey pairing was fairly obvious. Manu were going to come on to us and we needed the extra defensive qualities that that pairing give us with the hope of hitting them on the brake— it worked.
    The slightly more tricky one is when teams do the same to us, happy with a point. In these games we have to take the game to the opponents and so the pair above might not be so the holy grail.
    We have yet to see if Partey can effectively play attacking midfield, if he can, well those two are the best we have by some way but if not we will need something different.

  13. Maxwell says:

    Rocky, good post, thank you. Thought-provoking.

    I have always rated Elneny, even with his obvious limitations. The nearest recent comparison is Coquelin, who dovetailed so effectively with Santi, giving him licence to be the most entertaining deep midfielder in Europe! Le Coq has even more limitations than Elneny, but what they have in common is a great engine, decent speed around the pitch, and a willingness to do the dirty work. Oh, and Mikel Arteta’s description of “players without egos”. Elneny adds greater technical skill, and an ability to make clean tackles and interceptions, which we know Coquelin occasionally (!) failed to achieve.

    But Mo has upped his game since his return, and some of his forward passing is incisive. He’s also making more surging runs. He rarely gives the ball away, unlike Xhaka and Ceballos, both of whom I like, by the way. I just think they should now be closers more than starters. Both are inclined to slow play down, whereas Partey and Elneny look to get on the front foot straight away.

    I suspect the improvement in Elneny is down to what he is being asked to do now, compared to his instructions before.

    Anyway, for me the A team should be Parneny.

  14. RockyLives says:

    Parneny 😀

  15. Pete the Thirst says:


    ‘Pete, I understand your reservations about Xhaka, but he was a key part of our FA Cup run and win… that’s not nothing.’

    Can’t knock him for winning the FA Cup. Just don’t think he is quite good enough. He’s a bit slow, takes 2 touches when 1 will do, his passing can be erratic and he’s liable to a big mistake.

    Partey can do all Xhaka can and much more.

    I’m feel that Mikel is nervous playing Xhaka & Mustafi. Without alienating them he’s slowly easing them out of the 1st eleven. I hope he can do the same with Luiz.

  16. Pete the Thirst says:

    Did anybody notice that Huss Fahmy (contracts guy) has left the Club?

    Another Gazidis appointment gone. That’s pretty much all the executive team he put in place to cover his backside before he slithered off to Milan.

    The one who looked worth his salt was Mislintat and he was the first to go when Raul made his power grab.

    Looking at some of the players signed under Raul’s tenure it looks like blatant fraud:

    Pepe – £72m – Expensive
    Saliba – £30m – Hasn’t played a game for us
    Mari – 4 year deal for journeyman
    Cedric – 4 year deal for a journeyman
    Willian – 3 year deal for a 32 year old

    I think the lawyer appointed to look over the deals (Lewis) took one look at the contracts and suggested to Stan Wiggy to fire Raul on the spot or call the police in.

  17. LBG says:

    Suggestion that removal of Huss is paving way for Wenger return in some form.

  18. LBG says:

    Think Mari will be far better than “journeyman” and could well be the replacement that moves Luiz on.
    Gabriel, Saliba, Holding and Mari would do me as centre backs for years to come.

  19. Pete the Thirst says:


    ‘Think Mari will be far better than “journeyman” and could well be the replacement that moves Luiz on.’

    I really hope you’re right LBG. My concern stems from the few times I saw Mari play live. He’s tall, but looked very slow, turned like an oil tanker in the English channel. His career path doesn’t scream Premier League starter at me.

    Gabriel on the other hand looks the oven-ready deal.

  20. RockyLives says:

    I agree that there is a real pong around some of those Raul deals.

  21. RA says:

    Agreed, Pete — Mari does not fit Arteta’s plans, in my opinion.

    Your description is spot on.

  22. LBG says:

    Of course, only time will tell! Agree absolutely about Gabriel. Hope Saliba’s progress and “view of the Club” will not be undermined by the decisions Mikel has made about him.
    My assessment of Mari so far would compare him to Steve Bould’s role in the famous back five. Quietly reliable, using footballing positioning and nous rather than lightning speed in the centre back role. I too hope I am right.

  23. RA says:

    Here’s a bit about the shake up at Arsenal, including Fahmy;

    Arsenal’s director of football operations Huss Fahmy has left Arsenal in the latest high-profile departure as part of the club’s restructuring.

    Fahmy was hired in 2017 to add legal expertise to the club’s contract negotiations with both existing players and new signings.

    However, the Gunners have spent much of this year making significant changes to their internal operations, including the redundancies of 55 non-playing staff members and an overhaul of their scouting department before the sudden exit of head of football Raul Sanllehi in August.

    Technical director Edu and manager Mikel Arteta — who had his job title changed from head coach last month — have since assumed greater influence in recruitment which led to what one source described as a “narrower remit” for Fahmy.

    The former Team Sky executive has subsequently decided to move on in what a club spokesman insisted is an “amicable” departure. Fahmy will arrange his notice before leaving at the end of November.

    Arsenal are expected to hire a replacement but Fahmy’s successor will have a less-encompassing position and therefore would not occupy a place on the executive team.

    Although Fahmy was noted among Arsenal fans for his role in transfers, he was also responsible for overseeing a number of other areas including the travel department and operations at the club’s London Colney training base.

    Sources say Edu has taken on some of those responsibilities and the club’s football arm will now be led by the Brazilian, Arteta and academy manager Per Mertesacker.

    Although Arsenal have their own in-house legal team, Fahmy was credited with modernising the club’s approach to player contracts while also playing an influential role in the £27 million deal to sign William Saliba from Saint Etienne.

    However, although Fahmy worked on the Gunners’ two major summer signings — Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid and Gabriel Magalhaes from Lille — it was Edu who led those discussions in conjunction with Arteta.

    Fahmy’s successor will be expected to fill a supporting role to Edu as chief executive Vinai Venkatesham continues to lead a drive to streamline Arsenal’s off-field activity in an effort to cope with the financial impact of COVID-19.

    Sources have told ESPN that corporate lawyer Tim Lewis, who was made a non-executive director of the club in July, has also been a key figure in examining the methodology of Arsenal’s transfer activity and expenditure.”


  24. Pete the Thirst says:


    ‘he was also responsible for overseeing a number of other areas including the travel department’

    Was that the travel club transport?

    Way back in the late 80s / early 90s the Club used to run travel club special trains to mainly Northern clubs. I used them a few times before realising it more sensible to make your own travel plans.

    The train carriages were old rolling stock that were filthy dirty, stank, didn’t have working heating and their toilets didn’t work. You would jump on generally at Euston station at 9am and take an outrageously slow route up North, arriving 20 minutes before 3pm kick off, to be herded by aggressive local police to the ground. On approach to the destination the train would stop in sidings for a long time. The travel club reps would come along the train and pull down the blinds to stop any bricks thrown by the locals coming through.

    Mid journey the travel club manager, Paul Johnson, would pass through the carriages with a bin bag full of cheese rolls and if you were lucky a fizzy drink. That was the food offering.

    It was a miserable way to spend a football day out.

    Naturally we started using alternative methods of travel like the Inter City trains. you had to be careful on these as other club fans would be in these too. There always seemed to be trouble with Man Utd fans for some reason.

    Or when we got a licence the car. Much more direct, but not without problems. Again other fans at motorway service stations. Paying local scallywags to look after your car, or a broken window.

    A few years ago I noticed the old travel club manager, Paul Johnson, was on the Arsenal staff under Wenger as ‘Kit Man’. A nice move from the bloke that handed out cheese rolls on the trains. I have a few other stories about him, but they a little fruity.

    Anybody else use the travel club trains back in the day?

  25. LBG says:

    Smith-Rowe training with first team squad this week following recovery from shoulder injury. Get him in tonight, Mikel, for a Molde victory and a future starring role.

  26. Sue says:

    Martin Skrtel:

    “It’s our first win in the Champions League ever, we wish we could play Manchester United every week” 😂😂😂😂

  27. RA says:


    That is a bit of history as regards fan travel — (or do they still run?) and it also sounds horrific. 🥺

    No, I have never been on trains like that — they seem like cattle trucks.

    You may have missed a couple of seriously well travelled fans and AA bloggers, Chas and Ant aka Ant and Duck – who when they travelled to the Ems sent photos of themselves setting out on the journeys and acquainting us with their essential beverages and selections of food.

    Personally, I loved chatting to them en route, and wished they were still about to raise the humorous level on match days.

    I usually bummed a car ride with other friends/fans and their mums used to send them off with ample supplies of non-alcoholic beverages and sandwiches/rolls and so on. I always paid the equivalent train fare for the petrol etc. Happy days.

  28. RA says:

    Hi Sue,

    I have just watched some young girls, on TV, showing off their ‘Keepy Uppy’ skills, and they were fantastic, with at least one able to easily do 2,000 without stopping.

    I can only do about 10 — for some reason, when I tapped the ball, it would shoot yards in the air, so I soon gave up as it was getting tall Yanks a bad reputation. 🤪

    How many Keepy Uppys can you do? 3,000+ or would that be just a warm up for female, feminine fans like you? 😜

  29. Pete the Thirst says:

    @RA you haven’t lived! A journey on one of those trains made me appreciate the finer things in life.

    Haven’t come across Chas & Duck, must be from before I started visiting this site. What happened to them?

    Were they caught up in a terrorist incident?

    Or even worse did they fall for the evil charms of Tony Attwood on Untold? (Is that Be!!end still churning out his Wenger conspiracy theories?)

  30. RC78 says:

    Hi Sue – I think Tuchel wants to be sacked. He does not feel supported by our sporting director, Leonardo. Allegri already in the starting blocks:.

  31. RA says:


    During a time when I was unavailable for blogging, I returned to find Chas, who had been administering the Blog for quite some time, had called out a day.
    I do not know why.

    [Chas was the ‘Duck’ in ‘Ant and Duck’, and are brothers, saying which, I believe LBG is their other brother – not sure.]

    You would like them. Real fans. 😁

    I was banned from Untold, not that I cared, as I expressed an opinion that their ‘conspiracy theory’ about Refs being in a conspiracy to make Arsenal lose games, was one conspiracy theory too much, even if some refs (Dean / Atkinson and others) were often rubbish in Arsenal games, and too ready to award penalties against us, and not see obvious penalties when we played other ‘top’ teams.

    Not a conspiracy in my book, just incompetent refereeing, and their inflated egos — thinking the game was all about them and not the football.

    Once said – enough – but Untold had Manuals of Posts that were never ending conspiracy stories about bloody refs.

  32. LBG says:

    Correct analysis of my lowly status! Elder brother to Ant and Duck, who continue to thrive in Nottingham, as far as I can tell from my south of London position.
    Would also like to wish the youngster, Ant, a happy #*# Birthday today and trust the Gunners will provide him and all of us with a mouldy old win as a present tonight!

  33. RA says:


    You never look a day over 87. 😁

    By the way — how dare you and Duck bugger off without letting me know you were forsaking AA?
    [well that might have been difficult — as I was ill and not around at the time — but that’s no excuse! ] 😳

    Don’t tell me — you will soon be on the train to the Ems this afternoon, imbibing a drink or two, and I think you owe it to all of us who miss the pair of you — to send a quick photo to show us what you are currently drinking — and hopefully that will bring the Gunners some extra luck, so we should crush the Mouldy team.

    And while we are on the subject — a ‘post-match report’ from yourself or Chas would not go amiss — especially as he knows the ropes. 🤪

  34. RA says:


    Of course, if the deadly duo don’t come up with a match Post — you realise the forfeit is that you will have to do the deed instead.

    Anyway, you have gone AWOL on Post duty. 😉

  35. RA says:

    I was somewhat disappointed at the last Europa game with the team we put out — although I changed my mind – a win is a win.

    Tonight my prediction is as follows (I might as well get in before RC tells us;

    Leno (would like to see more of Runaroundson), Mustafanother, Kola Bear, Luiz, Cedric, Ceb, AMN, Willock, Nelson’s Eye, Eddie, Pépé.

    With other youngsters coming off the bench once the game is in our pockets.

  36. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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