“I think he held the midfield by himself,” Mikel Arteta said after Thomas Partey made the first start of his Arsenal career.
Partey produced a man of the match performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Rapid Vienna. As Arteta said, he dictated play from deep, snuffed out any potential counter-attacks, and, most crucially, progressed play creatively and purposefully, playing incisive passes between the Vienna lines and into the feet of his attacking teammates.
Arteta expanded on Partey’s role within the entire Arsenal set-up. “I think he was fantastic tonight and there is much more to come from him obviously,” he said.
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“He needs his team-mates around him, it’s not about him. With the price we paid for him and the profile of him, he’s going to have a lot of people looking at him every single game.
“But it’s about the structure we have as a team, the flow, the unity and cohesion we have in the team, and he’s one piece of that and hopefully a big piece.”
Against Leeds United on Sunday afternoon, Arsenal will be without that piece.
Not only is Partey absent, Mohamed Elneny, the man who so brilliantly partnered Partey in the Gunners’ 1-0 victory over Manchester United, their best performance of the season to date, will also miss the match after testing positive for the coronavirus during international duty with Egypt.
It leaves the Arsenal midfield in a tentative crisis. They are not without options, of course, with the two most consistent starters under Arteta from last season both still fit and available. But it is far from ideal, especially considering the opposition they face.
Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds are famously strenuous on opposing defences. Their high press is suffocating, relentlessly harassing opposing midfielders who dare attempt to play through…