In a typically frenzied first half on the Emirates Stadium, when Arsenal had been pouring forwards, challenges had been flying in from each side and tempers had been fraying, Thomas Partey remained a determine of calm within the centre of the pitch.
Arsenal supporters are nonetheless attending to know the 28-year-old following a stop-start first season in England, most of which was performed behind closed doorways. However this was him at his unflappable finest. This was the participant the membership have pinned a lot hope on.
“He’s a participant who must be one of many leaders, he must be the boss in midfield,” mentioned Mikel Arteta final month. He actually did that right here, excelling each out and in of possession and offering a platform for Arsenal’s attacking gamers to tear the guests aside.
Arsenal racked up 14 pictures earlier than the break, their highest complete in a single half beneath Arteta, and when Partey was not taking them himself – he hit the bar with one close-range effort shortly earlier than his objective – he was beginning the assaults from additional again.
He was all over the place, in different phrases, and whereas his fruitless long-shooting has been a supply of frustration for supporters, his long-awaited first objective for Arsenal, headed residence from Emile Smith Rowe’s nook, confirmed a set-piece risk they are going to now hope to see extra of.
It’s his distribution, although, that stands out as his very best quality and it was evident from the primary couple of minutes of the sport, when he slid an incisive go between Matt Targett and Emiliano Buendia to launch Bukayo Saka on the right-hand aspect of the Villa field.
His potential to interrupt opposition strains is invaluable to Arteta however he does the straightforward issues simply as properly. There have been physique feints to offer himself a yard of house and intelligent touches to do the identical for team-mates.
On the time of his objective, he had not misplaced a single go. By the top, he had made extra passes, had extra touches and made extra profitable tackles than anybody else on the pitch.
He appeared like he was having fun with himself and no surprise.
Partey needed to endure greater than his share of frustration final season, accidents limiting him to solely 18 Premier League begins, and there was extra misfortune firstly of this one, a twisted ankle suffered in pre-season inflicting him to overlook Arsenal’s first three video games.
His absence was a big issue within the defeats that adopted, simply as his return has been a big issue within the subsequent upturn in kind. Arsenal haven’t seen sufficient of Partey at his finest however there isn’t a doubt he makes them higher.
He does that, partly, by making others higher. “I believe he is received a special presence,” mentioned Arteta again in January. “It is not nearly his expertise and his physicality, it is who he’s as an individual. He makes gamers round him higher and that is an enormous, large high quality.”
He actually did that on Friday night time. Takehiro Tomiyasu had a troublesome begin at right-back, shedding possession on a number of events and permitting Villa to use the house behind him, however Partey helped him by it, providing him directions and staying near him.
Smith Rowe was named man-of-the-match however Partey had a job in that too, continually on the lookout for the 21-year-old in possession and offering the service he wanted to thrive. No participant acquired extra passes from Partey over the course of the 90 minutes.
A lot had been manufactured from Granit Xhaka’s absence on account of damage within the wake of Monday’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace however, having been alone in midfield for a lot of that sport, Partey was helped by the presence of Albert Sambi Lokonga alongside him on this one.
The 2-man midfield ensured higher solidity. And whereas Lokonga has made an assured begin to life at Arsenal following his £15m arrival from Anderlecht in the summertime, it’s no coincidence that his finest efficiency but got here subsequent to Partey.
The Ghanaian was signed for his expertise in addition to his high quality, in spite of everything, and that has change into much more essential given how the profile of the aspect has modified this season.
In opposition to Villa, seven of Arsenal’s starters had been aged 23 or beneath, whereas in Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Odegaard and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, their three substitutes had been 20, 22 and 24 respectively.
The youthful make-up of the aspect provides to the accountability on Partey’s shoulders, however on this proof he’s greater than able to take it on.
An uncharacteristically weak problem within the build-up to Villa’s objective was a uncommon blot on an in any other case glorious efficiency however Arsenal’s “midfield boss”, their determine of calm amid the chaos, is lastly making the impression Arteta all the time hoped he would.