Mikel Arteta says the £50 million paid by Arsenal for Thomas Partey layers “a bit of pressure” on the player at a time when fitness problems are hampering the midfielder’s ability to make an impact at the Emirates.
After five consecutive starts in the Premier League, the Ghana international suffered a hamstring strain in the closing stages against Aston Villa last weekend and has now been ruled out of Sunday’s clash with Leeds.
The boss revealed on Friday morning that the 27-year-old is ‘devastated’ by the news – a hint that he could miss further games – but says the club must now protect him so that he makes a full recovery.
Partey has already missed a six-week chunk of the season due to a persistent thigh problem which resulted in him sitting out 13 matches on either side of a failed comeback against Spurs in December.
“Hopefully, we can still see Thomas back and playing at the level he can do,” said Arteta in his weekly press conference.
“Last time, the second injury, we gave him more time to recover. He came back in good shape but he wasn’t fit enough to sustain that for 90 minutes and that’s why we kept subbing him and trying to protect him.
“I think he’s played 90 minutes only once see he came back from injury. Now, again, we have to protect him, make sure he’s fit and ready to come back. As soon as possible, but knowing we need the player long-term as well.”
Having had an exemplary fitness record during five years at Atletico Madrid, Partey’s injury struggles in London are as concerning as they are surprising.
Asked if getting used to English football is as much a mental undertaking as it is physical, the boss responded, “Probably it’s a mixture, also how much he wants to have an impact on the team.
“He knows how much he costs and that adds a bit of pressure. When you’re not able to play, you want to hurry up and do everything quicker and show everybody how good you are and have a big impact on the team, that creates some anxiety, for sure.
“Then the physical aspect, when you look at the output he needs to put in when he was playing in Spain compared to now, it’s pretty different.”
While Partey and left-back Kieran Tierney are the only players officially listed as injured, the boss says the unrelenting nature of this season, coming off the back of a hectic conclusion to the 2019/20 campaign and a token pre-season, is taking a toll on his squad.
Not for the first time, he lamented the Premier League’s failure to reach a consensus on the allowance of five substitutions per game. On three separate occasions, the motion failed after smaller clubs expressed concern that it handed too much of an advantage to clubs with deeper squads. Arteta feels the decision has come at the expense of player welfare.
“We talked about it [player welfare] at the start of the season and one of the things we could do was the five substitutions to give you the ability to change some players during the course of the game.
“When you get into the last 10 minutes you know the players are suffering, they are playing so many minutes and you’re thinking, I have four or five players here who might not finish the 90 minutes.
“There’s a big risk every game and we don’t have the possibility to do that right now. We talked about it, we knew that this year was going to be so difficult with the lack of preparation and the amount of games we have to play, but it is what it is.
“It was [frustrating] but we all have to agree and we didn’t. Some will say it’s the right decision and some others will say it would have been helpful if we could have done it.
“The reality is, we didn’t and we accept these are the rules from now until the end of the season and we have to play with those rules.”