Thomas Partey already proving his personal evolution can transform Arsenal

It took Arsenal until the final hours of the summer transfer window to get the deal for Thomas Partey sealed.

The Gunners waited and waited, ultimately being left with no choice other than to head to La Liga HQ and pay his £45million release clause.

Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone didn’t want the Ghanaian to go. At 27, he had proved himself indispensable at the heart of midfield.

Ultimately however, they had no choice.

Having been earmarked as the man to transform Arsenal's midfield by sporting director Edu and manager Mikel Arteta – and after being watched regularly for over two years since initially being scouted by the now departed Francis Cagigao – owner Stan Kroenke dipped into his pockets and did what was required, circumventing Atleti while also handing Partey the big money contract he was seeking to turn his back on Champions League football.

Handed his first appearance as a substitute in the weekend loss to Manchester City, Partey was in from the start for the Europa League opener against Rapid Vienna.

The last time he started in a match involving an English side in Europe, he was busy helping Atletico knock out then European Cup holders Liverpool out of the Champions League back in March.

Owen Hargreaves, speaking on BT Sport ahead of kickoff at the Allianz Stadion on Thursday night, eulogised over Partey.

“I love this guy. At £45million, he’s a lot of money that maybe Arsenal didn't have, but Mikel knows he needs this guy at the heart of his team, he gives them something different.

"This guy has everything you need from a modern midfielder. He can do everything. His whole repertoire, he just has everything.

"He can play every pass. Play it long, play it short, put it on a plate. He's the perfect modern midfield player.”

At half-time he continued: “It looks too easy for him."

At full-time, after Arsenal’s comeback victory had been secured, he hadn’t stopped, labelling Partey’s full debut as "one of the best ever.”

Now, simply, that’s a bit much, particularly in a game where Arsenal huffed and puffed but struggled to land any kind of blow on the home side for 69 minutes, and even had the temerity to fall behind after Bernd Leno’s error allowed Taxiarchia Fountas to open the scoring.

But David Luiz’s header with 20 minutes remaining, and substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s tap in four minutes later, ensured victory, three points, and the post-game focus to be on the positives.

Certainly, a major one of those was Gabriel, the Brazilian centre-back who was excellent throughout at the heart of the back three. Strong in the air and in the tackle, he used the ball well and his reading of the game was superb throughout.

Nicolas Pepe too was bright, while Mohamed Elneny’s reintegration as a first-team player continues.

But the standout, undoubtedly, was Partey.

He left Atletico largely due to long-time unhappiness with his contract situation, but also, in part, due to a belief that he was being pigeonholed purely as a destroyer under Simeone in Spain.

Having arrived in Spain as a No.10 – a role he still occasionally plays for his country – he became more of a box-to-box presence on loan at Mallorca and Almeria, before working his way back at Atleti, taking up the mantle of former club captain Gabi alongside Koke and Saul Niguez.

Simeone handed Partey the No.5 shirt at the Wanda Metropolitano in 2018, that number a reference point in his native Argentina for the deepest lying midfielder, who both protects and sets the tempo.

Had it not been for Sokratis’ failure to get a move away on deadline day, Partey would be Arteta’s No.5 too.

Nonetheless, for Arsenal’s now No.18, the interpretation of the role is very different.

While Simeone’s focus was, to Partey’s mind, too much on the protection aspect, he believes Arteta will hand him more scope to show his other qualities, his ability to shape matches with his technical and mental gifts, as well as the physical.

Alongside Elneny, that additional range was very much on show in Austria, with Partey the game’s standout performer. Hargreaves’ hyperbole not withstanding, he was excellent throughout, despite the struggles of some of those around him.

No one won more tackles, no one won more in the air. Only Gabriel made more than his 90 passes, while the midfielder having a 90 percent completion rate – unmatched by anyone who made more than 10. They weren’t just sideways either; 19 were forward passes into the final third. There were clever balls around the corner and passes thrust between the lines.

At times he was put under pressure and he just shrugged off the opponent with a (fair) thrust of an arm. On other occasions, he simply balanced himself and effortlessly turned into space. In all there were 102 touches, and not once was he caught out or dispossessed.

There is no doubt that Arsenal remain a work in progress. We didn’t learn anything new in that regard in Austria, a night where they lacked real punch and creativity in the final third until Aubameyang’s arrival, and where Cedric Soares struggled at wing-back.

But the rebuild is continuing to gather pace, and Arteta will be delighted to see the club’s Player of the Month for September, Gabriel, continue to go from strength-to-strength. Just 22, the defender is looking the part already at the base of the club's new-look spine.

On Partey, Arteta was more than pleased, explaining: “He looked really solid, really comfortable.

"He held midfield by himself in the second half when we were a little bit more open and starting to take more chances attacking certain places with some players.

“He was fantastic tonight and there's much more to come from him.”

Signed to have a transformative effect, he is already showing that he's capable of doing just that.

When he held talks with the Gunners, Partey told them that there remained potential that was still untapped.

Like Hargreaves, he believes he can do everything. His first full display suggests his personal evolution will only be to Arsenal’s benefit.

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