Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has dropped the strongest hint yet that Mohamed Elneny could become a long-term option at centre-back ahead of the new Premier League season. The Egypt international has been deployed as part of a back three in three of the Gunners' four pre-season friendlies - including against Bayern Munich and Chelsea - amid speculation over his future at The Emirates Stadium.
Galatasaray have been heavily linked with having an interest for the 25-year-old just 18 months on from his move to north London, but it appears Elneny's route into the first team could be provided by a berth in defence. The Gunners are braced to begin the season with wafer-thin options in the position with Shkodran Mustafi not due to return to training until Sunday [30 July] following his break after the Confederations Cup.
Meanwhile, Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Calum Chambers have only recent returned after being selected for the Under-21 European Championships. Brazilian centre-back Gabriel remains sidelined having suffered ankle ligament damage on the final day of the top flight season and the likes of Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs are not expected to be considered for selection as they attempt to leave Arsenal this summer.
Wenger has foreseen the shortage and given Elneny several opportunities to learn the position ahead of the new campaign, which begins in earnest with the Community Shield against Chelsea at Wembley on 6 August. Arsenal have two further summer friendlies in the Emirates Cup this weekend against Benfica and Sevilla for Elneny to further bed himself in, but Wenger is already impressed with how he has adapted.
"I played players like Elneny in a back three and he has coped very well," he said ahead of games against Benfica and Sevilla. "Maitland-Niles sometimes played at centre back as well, even in the big games against Chelsea. You see their strengths and their weaknesses, and you learn a lot about your players and your combinations too. The advantage we have is that we have a good stability in our squad, so I already know who I can combine with who, more or less.
"Elneny is a player who has a fantastic mentality and attitude, and his main target is to help the team. When he plays there, of course he does extremely well. Of course. 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."
Jack Wilshere, Bellerin, Holding and Chambers were the latest players to return to training for Arsenal on Wednesday [26 July], with Mustafi and contract rebel Alexis Sanchez set to follow. Both players will train while Arsenal are concluding their pre-season preparations and could be in line to face Chelsea the following weekend. Gabriel will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover from the ankle injury which forced him to miss the FA Cup final.
Santi Cazorla has denied he is considering retirement after undergoing eight separate operations to correct an Achilles injury but remains some way from returning for Arsenal. Wenger is nonetheless content with the fitness of his squad after a tough pre-season thus far.
"I would say that Gabriel is still a few weeks away because he has an inflammation of his bone," he added. "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.
"Overall I think we had a long tour, a difficult tour but a very interesting one as well. Everybody worked very hard in very different conditions. I was very happy with the attitude, the focus and the quality of our games, and the intensity of our training as well. Overall until now it has gone very well."