You can’t complete a puzzle without all the pieces.
And for the majority of the season, Mikel Arteta has been attempting to do just that. His hand forced by injury, he has been adapting the side to cope without a central piece of his tactical puzzle.
But doing without Thomas Partey would make any side weaker.
Remember the noise that was made when he signed? Even the journalists who would regularly crow about the demise of Arsenal were cooing over the Ghanaian’s arrival at The Emirates. Such is the pedigree and capability of the midfielder, his signing was viewed by experts everywhere as a pivotal moment for Mikel Arteta.
He finally had his link man. The player that would cap off the good work that our much-improved defensive line had accomplished, and be the flowing transition that would create overload opportunities for our forward line.
Partey is so much more than a holding midfielder. In fact, for those that did their research or who regularly watched Ghana in action, they would have been privy to displays that would be more suited to a box-to-box role. Partey is used much higher up the pitch for his nation and the limitations placed upon him by his then boss Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid didn’t allow the midfielder to show his full skillset.
We saw a brief glimpse of it on his return to the Premier League starting eleven – his first for more than a month – in our convincing 3-0 win over a beleaguered Newcastle side.
The first half was a cagey affair, but the second half blossomed for the Gunners, and all it took was a drop of the secret ingredient we have lacked for months.
Partey has it in abundance, and after a rare Newcastle attack had broken down, Partey took responsibility, worked some space deep within his own half, took a touch and then pinged over a delightful ball for Aubameyang, who was just past the halfway line and had a one versus one opportunity with Emile Krafth. Even with low confidence, Auba defeated his marker and the keeper – but it was the fact we had a midfielder who, for once, got the ball forward without any hesitation.
Granit Xhaka actually played well alongside him and did his cause all kinds of favours in regards as to who will be Partey’s first choice partner. But Xhaka may well be able to pass a ball 60-70 yards from a deep position – but he cannot do it on the hurry. The same goes for Elneny and Ceballos. Partey seems to have expert timing, and for the rest of that game, his confidence grew.
We saw him stride out of deep positions with the ball, head always up and surveying the pitch, ready to supply. He can carry, he can pass – but his overall reading of the game is astute.
And that is what we have been missing. Partey steps in and does what the team needs to progress. He will ensure our attack are neve starved and he will ensure our defnce are never overloaded. Thomas Partey is in essence – balance for our side.
We’re only now getting to see what the fuss was about – and it’s been worth the wait.