Football Features

“Thomas got the Partey started” but Arsenal’s major weakness was on display in tight victory in Vienna

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:00, 22 October 2020 | Updated: 9:43, 30 March 2021

In an interesting night of football, Arsenal came from behind to beat Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.

The standout performer on the night was obviously Thomas Partey, Arsenal’s new signing and midfield maestro.

The Ghanaian signed for the Gunners on transfer deadline day as, after a summer of haggling, they paid his release clause to bring him to North London. His small cameo against Manchester City was inconsequential, this game was to be his proper unveiling.

And what an unveiling it was!

The Ghanaian strutted across the pitch in Austria, looking easily and effortlessly better than everyone else out there. He passed the ball like Pirlo, he ran and tackled like Kanté, he even dribbled like Dembélé.

Thomas had 102 touches, playing 92 passes and completing 83 (and 90.2%). He made more passes in the opposition’s half than anyone else (57) and won more tackles (5) than any of his team-mates.

Basically, Thomas got the Partey started. He was supreme and looks every inch the midfield general Arsenal have been crying out for since Cesc Fabregas left for Barcelona way back in 2011. Yet Arsenal were absolutely dire and had to send for their captain and vice-captain off the bench to save them.

And save them they did, combining to score the winning goal as Hector Bellerin’s run and cross was calmly converted by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It was a lovely goal and will warm the hearts of Arsenal fans but the fact that it had to be those two that did the business when their midfielder was so dominant speaks volumes of the team’s problems.

That problem is creativity,

For the first hour of the game, Arsenal had just two shots on target. Both David Luiz headers from set-pieces (the second of which was their equaliser). They had 69% of the ball but were out-shot 11-8 by their hosts, who should have scored more than once especially given how shaky Bernd Leno was in goal.

But all of that, including the pressure on Leno, came because Arsenal couldn’t create chances.

Having Partey strolling around midfield is all well and good but the men he passes to, the men he finds in attacking positions, then have to make something with the ball. A passing and pressing system like Arteta’s cannot sustain itself without a constant goal threat. It needs opponents to feel overwhelmed and so desperate that they cannot keep a clear head in the face of pressing and thus turn it over more.

Of course Arsenal have one of the most creative players in the world on their books. Since the start of 2006/07 Mesut Ozil has created 1,107 chances for team-mates, that’s a figure only one man (Dimitri Payet) can better in the same timeframe. Yup, Ozil creates even more chances than Messi. That’s how good he is at it.

Yet Arsenal have him sat at home where he’s livetweeting the game and @ing everyone like some desperate fan. It’s sad to see such a magnificent footballer and such a giving person (he saved Gunnersaurus!) be ostracized so strangely.

Arteta has tried to play it off as his own failure that Ozil hasn’t made it, saying “I failed him.” But that is honestly true because there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the Spaniard to exclude a player as talented as Ozil, especially as his side have such an obvious need of him.

Yes, Thomas Partey was amazing against Vienna and will be amazing in an Arsenal shirt for years to come, but as good as his passes are they cannot make his team-mates more creative, and so they cannot solve Arsenal’s biggest problem.

Only Mesut Ozil and Mikel Arteta can do that.