He may have made his Arsenal debut against Manchester City last weekend, but a 10-minute cameo spent raking through the dying embers of the game was hardly a great showcase of what Thomas Partey can do. He had time for a few silky passes, a couple of interceptions and, impressively, his first booking for a sly foul on Riyad Mahrez, but other than that it was a quiet introduction for a man whose arrival has been greeted with so much excitement.
This felt like more of a milestone for Partey, with Mikel Arteta handing him his first start against Rapid Vienna. In a first half which saw Arsenal dominate possession but struggle to contain their opponents’ counterattacks, he stood out as a composed and calming presence.
Stroking long passes between the lines, moving the ball forward assertively, his exaggerated smoothness on the ball was in sharp contrast to the jerky, twitchy play around him. He also showed the other side to his game, winning three tackles, seven duels and a vital interception when he nicked the ball off Taxiarchis Fountas’s toe as the Rapid forward broke free from his markers and threatened to get in on goal.
Given that Arteta made six changes from the team that started against City, Arsenal’s disjointed rhythm was to be expected. Where everyone else gave a textbook Europa League group stage performance, however, Partey looked strangely out of place, a Champions League footballer who had wandered into the wrong stadium and decided to start dispossessing people for fun.
Harshly booked after inadvertently catching Fountas with his trailing arm, he was more cautious in the second half.
The sight of him turning his body side-on and extending his leg to effortlessly steal the ball from an opponent was still the defining image of the evening. It’s a distinctive motion, reminiscent of a claw machine grabbing soft toys at an arcade and carrying them away.
Arteta can be just about satisfied with the team’s performance, a header from David Luiz and a neat goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang salvaging the win after Fountas had pounced on a mistake from Bernd Leno to open the scoring. Where the defence looked unsettled and the attack was ineffective before Aubameyang was brought on with half an hour to go, the midfield was the one area of the team which worked well.
That was largely down to Partey, which should be cause for encouragement as Arteta gradually looks to mould the team around him. If he can keep bringing Champions League quality to the side this season, Arsenal will have a fighting chance of returning to Europe’s premier competition.
Thomas Partey vs Rapid Vienna [Squawka]:
– Touches (102)
– Pass completion: 90.2%
– Most passes completed in opposition half (50)
– Most tackles (5)
– Most aerials won (4)
– Most ball recoveries (8)
– Interceptions (1)
– Clearances (1)