Gunner Thoughts

Int. Recap+: Saliba, Tomiyasu, Saka, and Partey

A quick round-up of Arsenal news from the international break.

Happy Saturday everyone. It’s an International Break which means it’s a truly terrible time, made worse after we all had a weekend of Premier League football postponed just a few weeks ago. The play from Arsenal is truly scintillating to start the season, they find themselves dominating opponents home and away, and while they had their slip up against Manchester United — another game they truly controlled — the level of play is leaving fans to count down the seconds until they get another taste.

But, in the face of no Premier League football or Arsenal, I hope you are able to find something fun to do before the nerves start ramping up for the fast-approaching North London derby with Spurs.

In the meantime, I thought I would spend a second to just write a little bit about some Arsenal-player news occurring on international duty, and some takeaways or thoughts on it all.

First, if you haven’t taken a second to laugh at Harry Maguire yet, this really is a must-watch. Enjoy!

Okay, now to the good stuff — Arsenal.

William Saliba

Saliba played two days ago, unlike the others in this list, but when the lineups were announced it seemed like Arsenal fans wouldn’t get their wish of seeing him in action for France versus Austria. However, Jules Kounde went down with an injury in the 23rd minute and the Gunner’s bright, young, defending star stepped in and shone.

France were playing a three-back system which meant Saliba played as the right-sided center back in the trio. Obviously a little different from how he plays with Arsenal but similarities when in possession and with the role he played all year at Marseille. The comfort in that role and confidence we have seen all year carried through and he put together yet another outstanding performance.

  • 68 Touches
  • 59/64 for passing
  • 8 passes in to the final third
  • 1 clearance
  • 9 recoveries
  • 3/5 duels won

And while the stats look nice, stats with defenders aren’t always the best read for judging a performance. Luckily, the on-field success and impact of Saliba’s play was noticeably visible. No moment was more obvious than when Saliba carried the ball into the midfield and broke the lines with a pass that would be a French goal. It’s a play Arsenal fans have become almost accustomed to in such a short span of time, yet each time he does it, you’re reminded of what a special skill it is when packaged with all the other defensive assets Saliba offers.

He’s been a brilliant ray of defensive sunshine and one that the elevated the effectiveness and self-sufficiency of the backline.

One of the major questions I had coming into this season, was less about the ceiling of his potential and play, and more about how consistent he could be. Question asked and answered emphatically. It’s hard to believe there was a period of time where there seemed to be uncertainty over his future. And while eyes turn toward a potential contract extension, Arsenal fans will be happy to read his recent interview.

“I came back here to win so it’s nice to start the season well,” he told Canal +. “We had a very good start to the season until the Manchester game, but we’re still top. From a personal point of view, it was better for me to go on loan to play, make mistakes, learn. I came back stronger and with new ambitions. These experiences have shown me that football is complicated, but that you should never give up and believe in yourself.”

No doubt, hearing him acknowledge that he’s enjoying his time, enjoying the success, and maybe even coming to terms with the benefits of his loan period, stands to boost belief that he is quite keen to the idea of staying in London.

Takehiro Tomiyasu

The Japanese defenseman has only made six appearances for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, totaling a little under 1.0 matches played (76 minutes), but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you watched him play for Japan against the United States of America. He put on a dominant defensive show, and he dit it all from the left center back position, not right back as he does for Arsenal.

  • 69 touches
  • 48/58 passes
  • 7 passes into the final third
  • 5/11 long balls
  • 1/1 tackles won
  • 2 clearances
  • 2 interceptions
  • 9 recoveries

On top of these stats, he was incredibly clean and technical with his play. The passing stats may feel a little low — only 82% — but he was trying a few more daring passes given his stature in the team as a key figure. Additionally, as technically sound as Japan are, I think it’s fair to say their level of play is a little lower than Arsenal’s which naturally leads to a slightly sloppier game. All this to say, I’m willing to give him a pass and guess that this performance would translate flawlessly into the Arsenal side and see that percentage rise with it.

And that’s the interesting part here. Could Tomiyasu present a real piece of depth and competition for Arsenal’s left center back spot? It’s a position that some thought Arsenal may spend to shore up, yet Tomiyasu has offered an option there in a past and looked exquisite for Japan.

It’s always nice to see that versatility we talk about within this Arsenal side come to fruition, a real “next man up” philosophy is made possible when you have these options. If we can assume Arteta and Arsenal will see this performance, it could be something to keep eyes on.

Bukayo Saka

I really quickly want to touch on this, but frankly it’s not worth spending much time talking about. England were awful. They looked bad, they played bad, they were set up in a fashion that feels wasteful, and they lost. A casualty in the mess? Bukayo Saka being forced to play as a left wingback.

Other fans may toss out a little bit of banter his way because his performance was poor, but really, who cares? Saka was poor at left wingback? Okay.

He hasn’t played there in a hot minute, and I have no desire to see him play there for Arsenal anymore. The boy is a right winger. He’s proved himself to be one of the best young right wingers in the league, and if Southgate is going to reduce his value down to some awkward left wingback role, we’d all rather he just rest his legs for the North London derby.

Losing absolutely no sleep over Saka’s poor showing and I hope he doesn’t think twice about it either. Poor management from Southgate.

Thomas Partey

When you play in the footy-fan, blog game world seriously, you’re going to find yourself making some predictions. Within those predictions, youre going to find yourself making a few that you just hope don’t come true, even when your brain tells you they will. One such prediction of mine came true yesterday with Thomas Partey.

After Arsenal’s win over Brentford, I wrote that one of my worries was Partey going on international duty. More specifically, how Partey would get hurt on that duty.

Yesterday, Partey was slated to play in Ghana’s friendly against Brazil but pulled out with an injury sending many into a little bit of existential crisis mode at the thought of him missing Arsenal’s intense month of October. Now since that point it has been reported that this injury was more of a precaution over discomfort in Partey’s knee than a true injury.

While this news is likely to stymie the Arsenal-fan war machine while it waits for more details in the coming days, it still gives reason for pause. Precautionary is better, but it’s still a knock and discomfort — in a new location — that is causing Thomas to miss a match. And for a player that seemed relatively bulletproof during his tenure with Madrid, the six injuries totaling 240 days hurt and 32 games across two-ish years has evolved from a concern to a true worry.

Compounding that worry, is the definitive shift in results that come for the Gunners when Partey plays versus when he doesn’t. Last season, that significant drop absolutely cost Arsenal a Champions League spot — although that blame does not fall solely on Partey’s shoulders.

The point here is that Arsenal’s chances of achieving the goals they have set out to achieve, goals that they have shown early this season they can realize, are tied to and entwined with a 29-year-old, seemingly injury prone, holding midfielder whose contract is reaching a point in which the club will have to make a decision to pursue an extension, a sale, or allow him to run out the clock. In the short term, this season’s two early injuries indicate two things:

  1. Partey could be embarking on a turbulent season of nagging injuries and short spans of missing games.
  2. Arsenal need to strongly consider how they shore up this situation as soon as possible. Is this a January buy or can it wait until summer with Lokonga and Elneny (hurt) in the depth chart.

Long term, Arsenal need to consider how best to use Partey’s talents while not saddling themselves with another multi-year, expensive contract. There’s no doubt that the team reaches new heights when Partey holds down the midfield, but with a project built around youth aging into their primes together, Partey’s aging is trending toward aging him out of the project. Add on injuries woes that seem to be getting more and more frequent, and it’s all becoming a little bit concerning.

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