All of a Sudden Arsenal Have a Backbone Once Again

Oct 23, 2020, 4:00 PM GMT+1
Rapid Wien v Arsenal FC: Group B - UEFA Europa League
Thomas Partey looks to be a key player in Arsenal's spine | Johann Schwarz/Getty Images
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Thursday night's win over Rapid Vienna wasn't especially convincing. It could hardly even be classed as half-decent.

There was certainly merit to the way the Gunners came from behind in the second half but, from a general perspective, there is still much work to be done for Mikel Arteta.

Analysing the 2-1 victory as a whole provided multiple holes to pick, particularly in an attacking sense. Yet Arsenal fans can be forgiven for overlooking the unimaginative nature of their Vienna showing in favour of two superb individual displays.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin
Three points on the board | Chris Hofer/Getty Images

All the talk centred around the full debut of summer signing Thomas Partey, a long-since admired target who made the move from Atletico Madrid to north London at the 11th hour on deadline day.

Delving deep into their cash reserves to muster together the £45m release clause needed to prize him away from the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, the fans got to see one of the best full Arsenal debuts in the last decade.

A display that encapsulated all of the traits an Arsenal midfield has been yearning for since the days of Patrick Vieira - such comparisons were inevitable. His reading of danger was faultless, passing range extensive and driving with possession at his feet reminiscent of the former captain.

It took but a matter of minutes for his quality to ooze across the Allianz Stadion; players of his calibre never take long to assert their superiority.

Early hype must be partially quelled, sure - this was a Europa League tie against Rapid Vienna and not a vicious duel with Roy Keane at Old Trafford - but Partey's bruising belligerence on the ball can't be viewed without Vieira-tinted spectacles.

The Ghana international is not the only new vertebrae in Arsenal's new-look spine, as just in behind him there is another player who has entered the fray and instantly won over supporters' hearts.

Gabriel Magalhaes is already Arsenal's best central defender. The supporting cast he had to usurp in order to inherit such an honour wasn't exactly littered with quality - going one game without conceding a penalty would've done the trick - but the Brazilian is another player who looks tailor-made for Premier League football.

At a point where central defenders of any real quality are a rare commodity, Gabriel balances physicality with intelligence and confidence on the ball; traits that have abandoned the Emirates' back line since its inception.

David Luiz was meant to mentor his fellow countryman and ease him into the fold, but the current outlook suggests vice versa. Against Rapid Vienna he made eight accurate long passes, all distributed with an eye on the next phase of play, unlike others in the side who do so just to get rid.

Two bones are the spine appear sorted. But there's more strength still...

Bernd Leno, for all the rightful praise he received last season, had arguably his worst game for the club on Thursday. Apart from shot stopping, his footwork has been heralded as his greatest strength but was the latter of those traits that sorely let him down.

Rapid Wien v Arsenal FC: Group B - UEFA Europa League
Whoops. | Johann Schwarz/Getty Images

However when at - and he mostly is - he is a dependable cog in the Arteta's machine that provides the platform for the rest to express themselves, even if none of that was evident against Die Grün-Weißen.

Which leaves up top.

Alexandre Lacazette has started his league campaign off with three goals already, but any striker who is tasked with dropping so deep can't be considered as part of a team's backbone.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has flirted with a left wing role to the point where it's best described as a fling, although inklings of a return to centre-forward indicate he may be revising his relationship status. As he ages his predatory instincts will need to be tailored to, which are best showcased playing through the middle. He is, after all, a goalscorer.

Mikel Arteta
Arteta is building something | Chris Hofer/Getty Images

Should that transition take place then Arsenal fans can rejoice at the workings of an actual spine.

For a club who've won league titles and been regularly in the top echelon of English football with said steel holding them upright, the preliminary suggestions of a new entry into that history book bode well for Arteta's revolution.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

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