Arsenal’s hopes of winning the Premier League title took another hit when they failed to secure a win against Southampton at Emirates Stadium on Friday. The match ended in a 3-3 draw, with midfielder Thomas Partey receiving criticism for his lackluster performance.
Partey had been a critical part of Arsenal’s success all season but seemed to struggle after the international break. The midfielder was given a new position by manager Mikel Arteta, who asked him to drop back between Gabriel and Rob Holding to start the build-up. While this may have provided more security at the back, it left a hole in midfield where he was trying to cover two positions and cope with large passing distances between himself and his midfield partners.
Southampton seized the opportunity to press Arsenal throughout the first half, preventing Partey and Oleksandr Zinchenko from playing their usual short-distance football and evading the press. This tactic proved to be more harmful than beneficial, as Holding was taking too many touches in the absence of a dominant Partey in front of him.
Partey’s absence was also felt due to Granit Xhaka’s absence from the team. Xhaka’s positional understanding and intelligence have helped Arsenal manage pressure in the past, making it easier for Partey to play his best football. With Fabio Vieira, Arsenal lacked that intelligence and suffered as a result.
A significant part of Arsenal’s build-up is the freedom Partey has to make high-risk decisions to play through the press. However, this strategy went wrong against West Ham, leading to a penalty. On Friday, we saw the same, as a poor flick in Arsenal’s defensive third led to a Southampton corner, ultimately putting them 3-1 up. These risky decisions need to be cut out, especially during crucial moments of the game, to avoid costing the team.
Partey finished the game with 100 touches, 78/86 passes (91% completed), 7/13 ground duels won, four tackles, and 9/12 long balls. However, he was dribbled past four times, which is four times more than his average of one per game, and made some questionable decisions in possession, such as his shot from distance at 3-3 when Arsenal were pushing for a winner.
Although Partey’s performance was not disastrous, it serves as an indicator that he can do better with his decision-making. As Arsenal gears up to face Manchester City, Partey will need to improve his game to help the team secure a crucial win.