Thomas Partey completes Arsenal turnaround but AFCON exit leaves Mikel Arteta with key January dilemma

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Thomas Partey completes Arsenal turnaround but AFCON exit leaves Mikel Arteta with key January dilemma
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  • Thomas Partey
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Mikel Arteta
    Mikel Arteta
    Spanish association football player and manager

It was almost exactly a month ago that Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey was rating his own performances as being a four out of 10.

Such a claim was brutally honest by Partey and an indication of how his confidence at the time was clearly low.

He looked nothing like the player Arsenal had shelled out nearly £50million for, but the Ghanaian vowed at that moment to turn things around.

“This is when you realise that you have to get better,” he told Sky Sports. “I have to learn from the bad parts and try to do better.

“I think they demanded more and personally I know I can give more. I have to keep working and at the end I will get the results.”

Partey’s performance against Manchester City on Saturday showed how the hard work has paid off, with the midfielder putting in one of his best displays to date.

The Ghanaian bossed the midfield and, particularly in the first half, City could not live with him. Partey made more tackles and ball recoveries than any other player in the opening 45 minutes, breaking up play and starting Arsenal’s counter-attacks.

It was more of the same in the second half, even when Arsenal went down to 10 men, and despite suffering defeat to City the performance of Partey was a big positive for Mikel Arteta.

Partey’s resurgence has coincided with Granit Xhaka returning to full fitness and that does not feel like a coincidence.

The Ghanaian has always looked at his best next to Xhaka, who seems to act as the ideal foil for him to express himself. People can often be swift to highlight Xhaka’s flaws, but his willingness to do the ‘dirty work’ liberates Partey.

Thomas Partey has rediscovered his best form, but Arsenal will lose him to the Africa Cup of Nations this month (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)
Thomas Partey has rediscovered his best form, but Arsenal will lose him to the Africa Cup of Nations this month (Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Arteta has called for Partey to be the “boss” of the midfield and Saturday’s match against City was proof he can do that. The frustration for Arsenal, however, is they are now set to lose the 28-year-old for a month as he heads to the Africa Cup of Nations.

That is a significant blow because, just as Arsenal’s midfield appeared to be clicking, it has now been broken up.

Partey and Xhaka have started just seven Premier League games together this season, with injuries hampering their progress, but it is clear that is the midfield axis Arsenal must stick with when possible.

The fact that can’t be the case for the next few weeks, when Arsenal play Liverpool twice and also Tottenham, is a headache for Arteta and the door is open for someone else to step up.

Albert Sambi Lokonga is likely to get the nod but, as Saturday showed, he has some big shoes to fill.

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