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Partey, Gabriel and the £70m spine helping transform Arteta's Arsenal

13:00 GMT 02/11/2020
Thomas Partey Gabriel
The two summer signings played starring roles in the Gunners' first league win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in 14 years

There are many reasons why Arsenal’s victory at Manchester United on Sunday felt like a notable one for Mikel Arteta’s evolving side.

It ended a miserable run of 14 years without success in the league at Old Trafford, a run that stretched back all the way to September 17, 2006 when Emmanuel Adebayor’s poked finish snatched a late 1-0 success.

It was also the Gunners' first win away at one of the so called ‘Big Six’ since a Santi Cazorla masterclass inspired them to a 2-0 victory at Manchester City in 2015.

They have had 29 attempts at ending that run since victory at the Etihad Stadium, but all had proved unsuccessful, with just 10 points picked up over five painful years.

“Obviously there are many factors for that and it’s not a coincidence,” said Arteta, when discussing Arsenal’s dismal recent record away against their rivals at the top of the Premier League

“We have to change that dramatically and very quickly if we want to be fighting with the big teams. Because if we don’t, we aren’t going to have that consistency that’s required at the top level, so it’s big belief for the players as well. 

“To be fair, this season we went to Anfield and we played them face to face, then we went to the Etihad and we didn’t accept to lose the game, then we came here [Old Trafford] and did the same, except this time we won.

“It generates the belief and it binds everyone together. I’m really happy that after 14 years without a win, we were able to do what we did.”

Mentally, ending that winless away run will be huge for Arteta’s side. But perhaps the biggest thing to come from the victory at Old Trafford was the way Arsenal’s new £70 million spine propelled them to their success.

If there were some outside of Arsenal who had yet to truly understand the quality that Gabriel Magalhaes and Thomas Partey have added to Arteta’s side, then they do now.

The two summer recruits were superb on Sunday and integral to a victory that ultimately was secured with relative ease.

For years Arsenal have been accused of having a soft centre, of having a team full of talented individuals who would always come up short when up against the top teams. 

But with Partey and Gabriel now in place they now have a spine which looks capable of being able to compete against the very best.

Partey and the equally impressive Mohamed Elneny bossed the midfield at Old Trafford. It was only the Ghana international’s second league start since his £45m ($58m) move from Atletico Madrid but he looked like he had been in this country for years.

"He was outstanding," declared ex-United captain Roy Keane after full-time. "When you watch a player live that’s when you can judge a player and the more I look at him, the more I wish he was in the United midfield.

"He’s big, strong and aggressive – and he can pass it forward. He can deal with the ball.

Thomas Partey

"I had my battles with Vieira and I think this kid has got a chance of matching what Patrick used to do."

That is not the first time Partey has been compared to Arsenal legend Vieira, and it certainly will not be the last. Comparisons like that are perhaps unfair, given what Vieira achieved in north London, but Partey is not the type of player who will get bogged down by the weight of expectation.

At 27 he is approaching his prime after years of being schooled by Diego Simeone in Madrid. Arsenal wanted a midfielder who could come in and make a difference straight away and they have certainly found one.

Partey had more touches (84) than any Arsenal player at Old Trafford and competed in the most duels (15). Of the players that started the game, no player completed as many successful passes (93.2 per cent), with 36 of his 59 passes being made in the opposition half.

He also made four tackles - only Gabriel (5) made more - and gained possession 11 times. It was the perfect all round midfield performance from the Arsenal new boy.

“Partey was the best player on the pitch,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after the game. “He looks like an incredible signing for them.”

But it was not just about Partey at Old Trafford. Arsenal’s victory was one that was built around togetherness and structure. 

Arteta has now recorded two victories against both Manchester United and Liverpool since he replaced Unai Emery last December. He has also masterminded wins against Manchester City and Chelsea during that time.

What is happening at Arsenal right now is an ongoing project, and there is still plenty of work to be done, especially in the final third where they continue to struggle to create clear cut opportunities, but the progress within the past 12 months has been undeniable.

“We knew since the beginning that we had to trust the process,” said match-winner Aubameyang. “Mikel is bringing something very nice and everyone wants to follow him.”

Gabriel Arsenal

It was clear when Arteta arrived that his priority had to be making Arsenal more difficult to beat. Defensively they were not good enough and the protection given to those at the back from midfield was almost non-existent.

Seven games into the new season they now have the best defensive record in the Premier League having conceded just seven goals, despite having already played at Anfield, the Etihad and Old Trafford.

The improvement has been vast, even if that has come at a cost in terms of creating chances and scoring goals at the other end. But as Aubameyang rightly pointed out, Arsenal are in a process and that process is far from complete.

Arteta has only had one summer transfer window and the two key additions were brought in with the aim of making Arsenal stronger at the back and midfield. The captures of Gabriel and Partey have done exactly that.

The likelihood is next summer the focus will be on improving things at the top end of the pitch, adding some much needed creative flair and perhaps looking for an upgrade on Alexandre Lacazette - although the French striker’s work ethic at Old Trafford epitomised what Arteta is demanding from his players.

But whatever happens in the future, Arsenal now have a spine in their team that allows them to compete and the win at Manchester United, where they have come up woefully short in recent years, will only add to the belief that they are on the right track under Arteta.

In Gabriel they have a centre-back who looks as good as the best the Premier League has to offer and one who will only get better as he continues to adjust to his new surroundings in north London.

And Partey has settled in as quickly as many expected, with two Man-of-the-Match displays in his first three starts for his new club.

For a club struggling with the financial impact brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and one who had once again missed out on the riches of the Champions League, the £70m summer investment on Gabriel and Partey looked like a risky one.

But for a team who desperately needed to add a solid base it was a risk worth taking.

Sunday’s victory at Old Trafford was the latest indicator that it was money well spent.