Thomas Partey of Arsenal tangles with Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey has returned to team training after recovering from the ankle injury that has kept him out of the Gunners’ opening Premier League games.
The Ghanaian established himself as one of the best midfielders in Europe at Atletico Madrid, leading to Arsenal splashing around €50 million to secure his signature.
Since then, injuries, form and consistency have all been fleeting for Partey, and his latest return will come as a massive boost to Arteta, who has seen his side lose all three opening games, conceding nine goals while failing to score a goal.
The Gunners sit bottom of the league table going into match day four against Norwich.
It’s their worst start to a Premier League season. Mikel Arteta has lost 21 of his 61 league games as Arsenal manager.
His record compares badly to legendary manager Arsene Wenger who had to wait 116 games to lose 20 of them.
So how does Arteta go about getting the best out of his big-money signing Thomas Partey?
Give him the Granit Xhaka role
Thomas has been largely used as a box-to-box midfielder at Arsenal, something similar to what N’golo Kante does for Chelsea but they are not the same type of players.
The Ghanaian is more of a sitting defensive midfielder, with a unique skill set of passing skills and is supremely good at breaking the lines from deep.
He excelled sitting deep in a more defensive Atletico Madrid team, mostly playing with the handbrake on, while other midfielders like Saul and Koke were allowed to move around freely.
Occasionally, he would score a pile driver that would hog the headlines, but his defensive statistics and passing were at their best when he played in a deeper midfield role.
Essentially the Ghanaian is a number six and not a number eight. He can play as an eight, but to get the best out of him he has to play as a number six.
Do not rush him back
This is the fourth major injury Partey has suffered since joining Arsenal from Atletico Madrid a year ago.
He first suffered a muscle thigh injury against Aston Villa that kept him out for a month, then a related hip injury kept him out for a similar amount of time.
By the time he returned, the team was struggling for form and that affected his impact.
It took him a few games to find his rhythm, and then when he thought he was going places he suffered another thigh injury.
His latest injury was a piece of misfortune as he was at the end of a bad tackle from Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, resulting in him missing the start of the season.
Remarkably, Thomas had only suffered one major injury throughout his career prior to joining Arsenal which makes it more baffling how he’s suddenly developed a reputation as an injury-prone midfielder.
Areta is a man under huge pressure to turn things around, but he’ll get the long-term benefits if he allows the 28-year-old to work his way back to full fitness and not rush his return.
Generate a healthy competition between Partey and Lokonga
Like all top players, you get the best out of them when they are faced with adversity and Arteta will have to create a healthy competition between his record signing and his highly talented new midfielder.
Albert Sambi Lokonga arrived at Arsenal this summer as a man with a growing reputation from Anderlecht.
Last season, he played 33 league games and has been tipped for great things from those who watched him come through.
He started his Arsenal career playing in the position Partey would rather be playing, but because the Ghanaian was injured, the decision was a straightforward one for Arteta,
The manager’s challenge will be to create an atmosphere where both Partey and Lokonga will be pushing themselves for the starting slot.
Five facts about Thomas Partey at a glance
- His father is a local coach while his mum was a trader, Thomas is the eldest of eight siblings.
- Growing up, Thomas Partey idolised fellow Ghana international and former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien.
- Thomas Partey once revealed that his father had to sell some of his properties to help him travel abroad.
- Thomas Partey is the current deputy captain of the Ghana national team.
- He made his Arsenal debut in a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City on October 27, 2020.