Arsenal’s results throughout the season shared a fairly similar pattern. There were good runs of wins, surrounding ‘blips’ of two or three losses. This was a pattern that ultimately cost them the points tally required to finish in the top four, however looking past the results a pattern also followed on the pitch.
Thomas Partey was injured and absent from the squad for two extended periods in the season. The first came in the opening three games of the season in which Arsenal lost three, conceded nine and scored none. The second came in the last nine games of the season in which Arsenal lost four and won five, scoring 16 and conceding 14. Despite these periods contributing to less than a third of Arsenal’s Premier League games, the losses made up over half of the end of season tally. Of the 24 games Thomas Partey did appear in, they won 16, drew two and lost six.
In fairness, there is other context to consider. Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney’s injury problems throughout the season unsettled a back-line that had looked so solid at the start of the season but then Arsenal showed they could, just about, deal with those injuries. Tomiyasu appeared in just six Premier League games in 2022, Cedric Soares providing reasonable back-up. Tierney’s injury was more damaging but even the chaotic figure of Nuno Tavares had showed decent form earlier in the season when Partey was also fielded, even keeping Tierney out for a period of games.
In losing Thomas Partey, Arsenal had lost the control. The Ghanaian acts as a shield for the back four, while being able to progress the ball forward regularly too. He dictates the tempo and despite the great efforts of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, that is something they couldn’t achieve without him.
Defensively, Arsenal suffer massively without Thomas Partey. In the Premier League games he appeared in this season, Arsenal conceded an average of 0.96 goals per game. Without him, the number jumps to an average of 1.64 goals per game. Partey averages 1.8 tackles won per game, the highest by some way in the Arsenal squad this season. He averages highly on pressure success rate (35.4) and interceptions too (1.5). He is, by some way, Arsenal’s best defensive midfielder and vital to Arsenal’s midfield and defence.
It’s not just defensively Arsenal suffer without Partey too. With him, they scored an average of 1.7 goals per game but without, just 1.29. The midfielder is excellent on the ball, often able to find the line breaking pass or beat the press. He ranks only behind Granit Xhaka in the Arsenal squad on average for passes into the final third (4.9) and progressive passes (5.2) and is a significant part of build-up when on the pitch.
Xhaka, a naturally deep midfielder, was even given free license to progress further up the pitch during build-up almost positioning as a left-sided number eight during Arsenal’s good form following the new year, such was the trust in Thomas Partey.
Partey’s injuries are a clear issue for Arsenal. In his two seasons for the club so far, he has made just 48 Premier League appearances from a possible 76. Some injuries have become recurring such as hip and hamstring problems which will be deeply concerning to Arsenal. The Ghanaian rarely had injury issues at his former club and this could be an indicator of a struggle to adapt physically to a new, more intense level of competition. With more time in the league these issues could be overcome, but until that happens a solution is in clear need.
Sambi Lokonga was bought last summer from Anderlecht and Mikel Arteta has shown a desire to play the young Belgian in Partey’s role in certain games. However the player is still very young, and has a lot of development ahead of him before being ready to step into such a demanding position.
The transfer window opens on the 10th June and there are players on the market capable of filling such a role in the squad. Yves Bissouma, for example, clearly has the assets to play such a role and could be on the move from Brighton this summer but will likely command a fairly hefty fee.
Unfortunately Arsenal have multiple priorities in the transfer window and the defensive midfield may not be of the most pressing need. However, the issue simply has to be on the mind of Arteta and Technical Director Edu. Whichever way they choose to deal with it, the fact remains. Arsenal cannot afford to go into next season with the possibility of having to deal with another extended period lacking a hole in the team the size of Thomas Partey, without someone to fill it. It will cost them dearly.
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