£45m signing Thomas Partey trained with Arsenal for the first time on Thursday. Should he start at the Etihad?
What has felt like the longest international break of all time finally comes to an end this weekend as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal travel northward to face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. While it will be great to see Arsenal back, I’d be lying to you if I was to say it is the collective I’m looking forward to watching more than a certain individual.
That certain individual, as you would’ve gathered by the title of this article, is Thomas Partey. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the Ghanaian made a spectacular deadline day move to Arsenal after months and months of rumours linking with a move to north London. Since then, our most recent acquisition has played two games with his national team and has only just arrived in England.
This begs the question, should Partey start on Saturday at Man City?
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For most players, the answer to this question would be simple: no. Playing away at City on your debut is the definition of a baptism of fire. However, Partey doesn’t fit into the category of ‘most players’. We are talking about a truly world-class midfielder who relishes the opportunity to play in big games.
In his welcome interview, he himself inferred that he’d be more than ready to make his debut this weekend. He insists he is ready to learn “quickly”, to play in the “big games” and he maintains that this Saturday will be all about whether Arteta “wants” him. The sort of confidence you love to see as a football fan.
Of course, to provide a caveat here, it’s not as if Partey was ever going to say that he didn’t want to play. This wouldn’t reflect particularly well on him. Nonetheless, his performance at Anfield just prior to lockdown for Atletico Madrid proved that he’s more than a capable competitor against the very best in Europe.
And, on their day, the very best in Europe are exactly what Guardiola’s Manchester City are. Yes, they’ve struggled this season as shown via the fact they’ve only created two ‘big chances’ – outside of those scored. However, the calibre of player Guardiola has at his disposal can never be understated. City have some truly exceptional footballers.
Partey isn’t the sort of player who will enable us to go toe to toe with the likes of City offensively. But his defensive capabilities and physical presence will improve us in these sorts of games. His ability to knock a player off the ball, to break up play and then to push his team forward are all hallmark aspects of the Ghanaian footballing profile.
Of course, if he is ready, he should start this weekend. Partey immediately becomes our best central midfielder upon his arrival and therefore to leave him out in this big of a game wouldn’t be wise if he were ready to play. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that he might not be ready.
It’s probable that the former Atletico man will partake in a maximum of four training sessions prior to the City game. The Ghana international has enjoyed a full pre-season with his former club so fitness won’t be an issue. The potential issue is likely to be tactical.
One of the key reasons Partey was said to favour a move to Arsenal was due to the fact he felt restrained in Diego Simeone’s system. He wants to add some liberality to his game. In time, he’ll learn to do this. Right now, he is still very much still a Simeone student rather than an Arteta student.
To move from Simeone’s rigid Atletico structure to a more interchangeable Arteta system will of course be a challenge. Partey himself recognises that he needs “to get used to the style of play”. So, to throw him in against one of the best teams in the country in a completely alien system after just three training sessions may be too tall of an task for the 27-year-old.
In consequence, it pains me to say that I don’t think we’ll see Partey from the start on Saturday. As much as my heart wants to see him meandering around the Etihad Stadium pitch in an Arsenal shirt this weekend for the full 90 minutes, reason tells me I won’t. Reason tells me we’ll see a 30-minute cameo from our new No. 18 against City, at most.
Let’s hope that no Thomas doesn’t mean no Partey on Saturday.