Let’s begin today with a report from John Cross that Thomas Partey has undergone a ‘specialist procedure’ for a thigh injury, and is likely to be sidelined for the rest of 2023. I have to admit I was worried when Mikel Arteta said ‘weeks’ about his injury when it first happened, because he is, as we all know, the most circumspect man in the world when it comes to releasing that kind of information.
It’s obviously a blow for the player, and for the team, not least because this injury came during a training session when Arsenal had tried to be cautious with him. They resisted the temptation to bring him in after the Interlull where he’d played in two games for Ghana (which is fine by me, btw – he needed minutes having been out of action since the end of August). The plan was to start him in Sevilla but a training ground knock put paid to that. We often worry about the load carried by certain players, but this demonstrates these things can happen at any time.
I’ve written before about Partey, and while he isn’t the only injury prone player we’ve had, he’s certainly had his fair share of problems since his arrival from Atletico Madrid. Some might argue that the reemergence of Takehiro Tomiyasu, who has fitness issues himself, shows you shouldn’t write players off. The difference for me is that Partey will be 31 in the summer, with just a year left on his contract. Tomi is mid-20s, and has his best years ahead of him, and his injuries were not repetitive muscular strains in more or less the same area.
I strongly suspect, after all the talk of him going last summer, Arsenal have plans in place to replace Partey next summer. How concrete they are I don’t know, but there must be names on the shortlist, and an understanding that between his age, contractual situation and injury record, it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, we might need to do that in January. He might return quicker, he might be out for longer. He might be fit in January, but then called up for AFCON which begins midway through that month.
Much will depend on availability, of course. I’ve seen the name of Douglas Luiz bandied around already, but imagine what it would take to buy him from Aston Villa in January when they’re enjoying such a good season. Especially when you recall how vigorously they rebuffed offers last time around. I think that’s one you can basically rule out. After that, who knows? Maybe someone from South America, where Edu should have plenty of contacts, but we’ll have to wait and see.
As it stands, our central midfield roster of Declan Rice, Jorginho, and Mohamed Elneny feels very light, and if we’re going to compete across three fronts from January onwards, with Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup, we need to add something there. And the obvious answer ‘Well, Partey will be back in January’ isn’t one that fills me with too much confidence, because his fitness isn’t something I’d stick a fiver on, let alone a title challenge or a European push.
Meanwhile, the Independent Key Match Incidents Panel which review Premier League games have reported their findings on our game against Newcastle last weekend. On the goal, they said:
… although Joelinton does have his hands on Gabriel, there isn’t enough to award a foul as Gabriel had made an action to play the ball before any contact,” while also upholding the view there wasn’t enough proof to cancel the goal on the two factual offences.
Quite what the relevance of the action to play the ball thing is, I just don’t know, and the ‘although Joelinton does have his hands on Gabriel’ bit is doing some very heavy lifting there. They didn’t say there was no foul, just that they didn’t deem the contact sufficient to rule the goal out. Which seems mad to me, as two hands in the back is a free kick every time. I am convinced this is a decision made based on the post-game narrative around this incident – not least the widely spread opinions of pundits who are very obviously backing the PGMOL – and not the laws of the game. I expect this decision also opens the door for a fine, at the very least, for Mikel Arteta.
As bad as that is though, it gets worse. Here’s what they said about the Kai Havertz and Bruno Guimaraes incidents:
However, the panel was unanimous that Kai Havertz should have been sent off for Arsenal in the 36th minute for his challenge on Sean Longstaff as it was “a very dangerous challenge and the type of tackle that needs to be eradicated” — a decision which would have altered the direction of the game.
Bruno Guimaraes’ arm to the head of Arsenal’s Jorginho in the 45th minute was also a missed red card, but on a split 3-2 decision for the VAR to get involved.
On reflection, if Havertz is issued a red card, I think it’s one you have to accept, but given the contact was so minimal, I do think there’s a genuine grey area there. There is no such grey area with the Bruno forearm on Jorginho though. As others have pointed out, in rugby that’s a red card. It’s a move that is prohibited in boxing, where hitting people in the head is the entire point of the sport. It is, as I have mentioned before, the very definition of violent conduct.
So, how on earth are we supposed to have any faith in the decisions that this panel come to when they unanimously think Havertz is a red card, but two them somehow don’t see the Bruno one for what it is? The same panel, by the way, felt that the yellow card for Udogie in the game the other night wasn’t a clear and obvious error despite the fact he jumped in dangerously with two feet – another stonewall red card.
How are they making these decisions? Certainly not by applying the laws of the game as we know and understand them, so what is the thinking? It’s absurd. As Arteta said the other day about respecting referees:
I fully agree that we have to respect and this is what we try to do. We have to have respect, you have to have good trust and the capacity to have a conversation and opinions. That’s when respect is built.
How can anyone, Arsenal fan or otherwise, trust the decisions of this panel based on this abject nonsense? Rival fans will say ‘Haha, suck it up’, which is entirely their right, but it’ll come for them too at some point, and it won’t be so funny. I guarantee you the reaction will be different. Let’s see how matey some managers are if they’re denied points by officials rather than the thuggery of their own players.
The final thing I’ll say on this (for now anyway!), is that Declan Rice was asked what the players thought of Arteta’s comments after the Newcastle game, and said:
Yeah, we love it. I think you see how passionate he is. I think he sometimes gets criticised for how he is on the sidelines, but, you know, he’s living the game through us. He’s so energetic and the way he speaks, he’s like a teacher in the changing room and that really fires us up for the game and I think that’s what he’s really really good at.
That’s the silver-lining in all this from our perspective. A sense of injustice can be powerful fuel, so let’s hope we can show that this weekend when we face Burnley.