Thomas Partey’s talent and his importance to Mikel Arteta can’t be disputed. His inability to stay fit since joining Arsenal, however, is incredibly frustrating and genuine questions should be raised over whether the club should identify and sign his long-term successor in 2023.
The Ghanaian has started just 58% of Arsenal’s Premier League games since arriving in 2020 and the most starts he’s ever mustered in a row is nine. If only he boasted Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s indestructibility, eh? How much better off would the Gunners be?
Partey quietly went about his business at the base of Arsenal’s midfield to start the 2022/23 season as the Gunners won their opening three games (and another two in his absence) of the new campaign. The former Atletico Madrid midfielder has been relied upon less in possession thanks to the metronomic Oleksandr Zinchenko, but his importance to the Gunners in the defensive phase can’t be understated.
Partey rarely ventures forward and is an adept screener of Arsenal’s improving back four. He’s athletic enough to cover ground in transition, too, and only Ben White can match his average of five combined tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season.
In his absence as a thigh issue resurfaced, young Sambi Lokonga impressed in a dominant 2-1 win over Aston Villa while the now injured Mohamed Elneny produced a typically efficient performance in the come-from-behind triumph over Fulham. However, the Gunners were ruthlessly exposed in transition without Partey at Old Trafford as they tasted defeat for the first time this season.
Arteta’s instruction to man-mark in midfield combined with Lokonga’s sub-par positional sense were a couple of factors that allowed United to open the scoring, and two incisive sequences in the second half, during which Arsenal’s midfield was bypassed with ease, saw the hosts wrestle back control after Bukayo Saka had equalised on the hour.
While obviously talented with the ball at his feet, Lokonga hasn’t quite matured yet out of possession. Hopefully, though, he would’ve learned from Old Trafford.
Why Thomas Partey’s return is huge for Arsenal’s trip to Brentford
Supporters were treated to news of Partey’s return to training on Monday and it’s since been reported that the midfielder in fact made his comeback ahead of the postponed Everton clash. He’s in the squad for Ghana’s upcoming international friendlies (ffs), and he’s in contention for the weekend’s trip to Brentford.
For Arteta, the return of his enforcer in the middle of the park is a timely one given the nature of Sunday’s opponent. While this writer ignorantly predicted their demise this season, Brentford have started the season in fine fettle and currently sit eighth in the Premier League table through six games.
Now, we know what Thomas Frank’s Bees are all about. They’re a physical, well-coached side that revolve around the majesty of Ivan Toney in attack. Although, Brian Mbeumo plays the ‘Robin’ role alongside the English striker excellently. They’re a tough side to beat at home, as Arsenal found out on opening night last season, and are deadly in transition.
Brentford’s average attacking sequence time of 7.63 seconds is the sixth lowest in the division, while only five of their build-up sequences (10+ passes) has culminated in a shot or a touch in the opposition’s box. In short, they’re a side that likes to get upfield quickly.
Their proficiency on the counter would’ve worried Arteta had Partey not been fit to play a part, but the Ghanaian’s likely presence will allow the Spaniard to breathe a little easier. William Saliba and Gabriel, meanwhile, should ensure Toney doesn’t have his way against the Gunners as he did in August 2021.
Partey will also be tasked with screening passes into the Brentford hitman. But, his main duty will be mopping up second balls to ensure Brentford can’t break forward quickly, all while ensuring Arsenal can sustain pressure themselves. The Ghanaian must be wary of any third-man runs from midfield that Toney loves to pick out, too.
I’m sure Frank and Toney would’ve been licking their lips had Sambi been forced to start on Sunday, but Partey’s likely inclusion should tilt the balance in Arsenal’s favour. Brentford could yet have success in transition even if Partey starts, but the Gunners are certainly in a better position to mitigate their threat with the Ghanaian returning.