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Jamil Hussein

Top Arab Premier League footballers to watch out for

Riyad Mahrez has become one of the most sought-after attacking players in Europe [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 September, 2016

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With the Premier League now well under way, Jamil Hussein lists the top five Arab players to look out for this season.
Not only are Arabs buying English football clubs but increasingly more footballers from the Middle East and North Africa are plying their trade in the Premier League.

Last year was a watershed moment, with Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez being voted the best player in the country. And it’s Algerians who still lead the way – the country has five players representing them in England’s top flight.

So with the Premier League now well under way, here are the top five Arab players to look out for this season.

1. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City – Algeria

[Getty]

Riyad Mahrez became a household name in 2015/16, winning the coveted PFA Player of the Year award and helping Leicester City become the unlikely champions of England.

Now the 25-year-old, who signed from Le Havre in January 2014, has become one of the most sought-after attacking players in Europe. The likes of Arsenal and Barcelona were rumoured to be interested in the winger before he penned a new four-year deal with the Foxes in the summer.

The current season has started slow for Mahrez – he missed a penalty in the recent game against Swansea. But having bagged 17 goals and 11 assists last season, there’s little doubt he will play a crucial role in Leicester City’s fortunes this year.


2. Islam Slimani, Leicester City – Algeria

[Getty]

Joining Mahrez at Leicester City this season is another Algerian – Islam Slimani. The striker signed for what’s thought to be a club-record £29 million.

The 28-year-old scored for fun for Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon last season – plundering 27 goals in 33 league games. The Algerian-born star is also prolific for his country and became a national hero in 2014 when his two goals helped Algeria reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time.

With the signing of Slimani, Leicester have added more firepower to the quality that already exists in Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. It also shows the Foxes are serious about not letting go of the title without a fight.


3. Mohamed Elneny, Arsenal – Egypt

[Getty]

Often new signings take their time to find their feet in the Premier League but when Mohamed Elneny signed for Arsenal in the January window, he started playing immediately.

By the end of the 2015/16 season, the Egyptian had made 11 appearances. The defensive-midfielder capped off his fine debut season for The Gunners by winning the club's Goal of the Season award – for his strike against Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Arsenal may have signed another midfielder in Granit Xhaka for £35 million but the departure of Jack Wilshere on loan suggests Elneny could feature heavily in Arsenal’s campaign this season.

4. Sofiane Boufal, Southampton – Morocco

[Southampton FC]

Southampton paid French side Lille a club record £16 million for Sofiane Boufal just before the transfer window closed.

The wing wizard has been compared to Eden Hazard, Dimitri Payet and Mahrez. And you can see why. Boufal is known for his dribbling skills and for shooting from distance – he scored an impressive 11 goals in 29 league games from midfield last season.

With Southampton selling their most prized players again this summer – Sadio Mane, Graziano Pellè and Victor Wanyama all departed – Boufal could become the new main man for the Saints.


5. Sofiane Feghouli, West Ham – Algeria

[Getty]

Having spent six seasons with Valencia in La Liga, Algeria winger Sofiane Feghouli switched to the Premier League and joined West Ham United on a free transfer.

Last season, the Hammers’ midfielders chipped in with a few goals and it seems like Feghouli will be no different – the 26-year-old boasts impressive goalscoring stats, netting 42 times in 243 appearances for Valencia.

The Paris-born winger has scored 11 goals for Algeria in 40 appearances. And despite playing only two games for West Ham so far this season, he has already netted for the club in the Europa League Qualifiers. Expect more goals.

Over a dozen footballers, representing countries from the Middle East and North Africa, now play in what is billed as the most exciting league in the world. But it’s these five that will be the most influential for their Premier League clubs this season – and, with the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 looming, their countries as well.

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