It promises to be the most intriguing question when the Arsenal squad gathers back at London Colney following the international break. Will Mikel Arteta throw Thomas Partey into his side from outset?
To add an intriguing wrinkle to the matter Arsenal return to Premier League action at the Etihad Stadium, just the sort of game where Partey’s dynamism, reliability and strength in the tackle could be vital. As Arteta himself acknowledged, his team are missing something in midfield.
“We believe he has the right qualities, with his character and his personality and as well with his technical qualities and positional options that he can give to the team,” Arteta said.
“I think 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, I think we were a little bit short.”
Such was the rush in which Partey was signed that he has not met many of his new team-mates, let alone trained with them. Having completed his medical and agreed terms on his £45million deadline day switch, Arsenal’s new signing has joined up with the Ghana squad for internationals against Mali and Qatar, the latter taking place on Monday afternoon.
Assuming that he comes through those unscathed and that there are no other factors that delay his arrival Partey ought to have a reasonable amount of time to familiarise himself with Arteta’s demands. As such a clear upgrade on the options currently available at Arsenal it seems logical that if he is fit enough he should play, perhaps alongside the steadying presence of Granit Xhaka.
In defence Arsenal were handed a welcome double boost this week when Calum Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi returned to first team training. The former has been sidelined since December so it seems unlikely he would be sharp enough for a place in Arteta’s plans.
Mustafi could be get closer although Arteta is likely to have enough options that the German will have to settle for a place on the bench. Whether he is required to do that may well depend on the availability of Kieran Tierney.
He has been told to self-isolate for 14 days from Tuesday after team-mate Stuart Armstrong was diagnosed with COVID-19 whilst with the Scotland squad during the international break. However Arsenal and the Scottish Football Association are liasing to understand whether Tierney can be brought back to England and potentially reintegrated into Arteta’s plans in time for the City game.
Tierney tested negative for coronarvirus on three separate occasions last week and has antibodies in his system. His exposure to Armstrong only came when the two of them and Ryan Christie were playing video games in a hotel room whilst practicing social distancing.
If Tierney is not available the Gabriel Magalhaes would seem the natural option to take up the left-side of a back three with David Luiz and Rob Holding.
Up front there are questions for Arteta to answer. He has generally eschewed playing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang anywhere but on the left flank yet an impressive cameo through the middle in Arsenal’s win over Sheffield United suggested the captain merits consideration as the central striker more frequently.
Doing so would allow Arteta to name two of Nicolas Pepe, Willian and Bukayo Saka from the off, assuming the latter is not chosen as a left wing-back.
Equally Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah have been in fine goalscoring form so far this season, the former with three goals in three Premier League games. Against such tough opposition it is easy to envisage Arteta going with what he knows has worked so far.
Predicted Arsenal XI: Leno; Holding, Luiz, Gabriel; Bellerin, Partey, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang