Should Thomas Partey’s Display at Anfield Be a Cause for Concern?
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
Arsenal’s recent 4-0 thrashing away at Liverpool has raised a plethora of questions within the club’s fanbase. Have Arsenal been over-performing in recent weeks with results covering up poor displays? If so, how much has Mikel Arteta really improved his Arsenal side? And if Saturday was just a blip, where did it go so wrong at Anfield?
In regard to the final question, fingers have been pointed at Mikel Arteta’s engine room. The Spaniard’s midfield duo consisting of Thomas Partey and Albert Sambi Lokonga dealt with the Liverpool threat well in the first half, yet capitulated in the second with Sambi withdrawn and Liverpool dominating. Yet, throughout the 90, both these players, and henceforth Ainsley Maitland-Niles who replaced Sambi, failed to stamp their authority over the match.
This is understandable in regard to both Sambi Lokonga and Maitland-Niles. This was the former’s first big test away at a Big Six club’s home ground and until he lost his composure off the back of four consecutive misplaced passes early in the second half, his bravery on the ball was hugely impressive. Meanwhile, Maitland-Niles is still adapting to the demands of operating as a genuine midfield option in Mikel Arteta’s squad. Fine.
Nevertheless, some concerns are growing surrounding €50 million man Thomas Partey. Some fans believe games like Liverpool away were exactly the sort of matches Partey was brought in to help Arsenal compete in. After all, the Ghanaian did deliver a monstrous display at Anfield in the Champions League for Atletico during the season prior to his move to England. Thomas Partey is supposed to be a big game player for Arsenal.
In fairness to Arsenal’s no. 5, his sub-par performance at Anfield can be excused partially this time around. He came into the game off the back of yet another spell on the sidelines, and Mikel Arteta refused to confirm his availability for Saturday’s game as late as Friday morning. Perhaps he wasn’t 100% fit.
However, ignoring that caveat for a second, one must begin to question whether a player of such stature should ever ghost through a big game as Partey did at Anfield on Saturday. The weekend’s midfield battle never began. Fabinho and Thiago with the aid of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain asserted their authority from the first minute, and all Partey could do was try his best to cope.
Again, further context should be applied here. For one, Thiago and Fabinho are two of Europe’s best midfielders. Partey shouldn’t be expected to dominate them on his own. Furthermore, he was of course operating alongside an inexperienced midfield option in the form of both Sambi and Maitland-Niles. The main issue in this regard is that Partey never appeared to take the lead when playing next to either one of these two players.
As a 28-year-old seasoned professional footballer, Partey’s midfield influence should grow when he’s operating with an inexperienced player alongside him. On Saturday, his greater experience was not obvious. Regardless of Xhaka’s absence, Thomas Partey’s experience and presence should always be vivid in Arsenal’s midfield.
Thomas Partey is not having a bad season. Statistically, as he has throughout his career, he continues to profile well. His all-round midfield game, bar his shooting, has been superb this season. He’s improved his progressive passing, his ball-carrying is of high quality as always and he stands head and shoulders above his midfield counterparts when it comes to breaking up the play in the defensive phase. However, for a player as talented as Thomas Partey, this should be the bare minimum he demands from himself.
If Arsenal really are going to push for that Top Four spot which looks very much up for grabs this season, Thomas Partey is going to have to take his game up a level. That means being Arsenal’s midfield leader. That means dominating opponents in the engine room. That means looking like the best player on the pitch on a weekly basis, as his statistical profile suggests he should.
Arsenal have had over a year of Thomas Partey now and he’s delivered just one breathtaking performance, that being away at Old Trafford last season, amid general consistency in performance elsewhere when he’s been fit. It’s now time for the Ghanaian to start delivering such breathtaking performances on a more consistent basis, because Mikel Arteta absolutely needs his midfield general to start repaying the €50 million Arsenal lashed out on him last summer.