There are those who have consistently observed Arsenal who maintain that, not since the conclusion of the 2007/08 season, when they threatened to beat Manchester United to the Premier League title and when Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva then left, have they had a truly convincing defensive midfielder. Alex Song followed but, for all of the quality of his passing, lacked consistency. Francis Coquelin also often impressed, but looked more vulnerable if Santi Cazorla wasn’t alongside him. It was hoped Granit Xhaka, at £35m, would prove the solution, but like Mikel Arteta who came before him, he too is at his best playing, instead of winning, the ball.
Most recently Lucas Torreira, though consistent and tenacious, was considered too small by Unai Emery, whose successor – none other than Arteta – has sanctioned his departure on loan to Atlético Madrid, and from Atlético the £45m arrival of Ghana’s Thomas Partey, who aged 27 will be expected to finally provide what Flamini and Silva so often did. “He allows us to play different formations and he can fit in within those formations in different positions, which is a really good thing to have in a squad where, in midfield, we were a little bit short,” Arteta said. “I have a few things in mind that I want to start to train with the team and (Partey’s signing) is going to give us a little bit more adaptability and more balance in defending and attacking transitions and the way we have to set up certain structures to attack better in certain moments of the game.”