Thomas Partey’s latest comeback from injury could help Arsenal in two different ways.

After over three months out injured, Thomas Partey is finally back for Arsenal. The Ghanaian made his return to action in the 6-0 hammering of Sheffield United and also made a late cameo as Arsenal edged out Brentford 2-1.

Partey has not exactly looked at his best in those appearances. The 30-year-old has typically been a player who likes to play himself back into form where possible.

This is something Arsenal are keen to manage. That’s particularly the case with the number of setbacks he’s suffered this season. The thigh injury that saw him miss three months came after recovering from a hamstring injury, and just after he returned to training in January he suffered a separate muscle problem that delayed his return by over four weeks. Assuming the Gunners do get Partey’s rehab right though, his return could help them in two ways.

Arsenal are already well versed in Partey’s capabilities at the base of midfield. In their unexpected title charge last season the former Atletico Madrid man was largely excellent in the number six role, while in the campaign prior to that his form had propelled Arsenal to a Champions League qualification push. In the limited matches where Partey was fully fit earlier this season though, Arteta opted to use him differently.

In truth, the experiment began at the end of last season. With William Saliba, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Oleksandr Zinchenko out injured, and Kieran Tierney not trusted to invert from left back, Arteta opted to use Partey as a right back and move Ben White into central defence, with Jakub Kiwior shifting over to left back. You could argue that he was just managing an injury crisis at the time, but Arteta’s willingness to use him when he had a near fully fit squad at the start of the season shows that this tactic is here to stay.

Back in August using Partey at right back was not exactly a popular decision. Firstly it saw Gabriel dropped from the team, leading speculation to run riot over the Brazilian’s future. Secondly Arsenal weren’t anywhere near the attacking excellence we’ve seen from them in 2024.

What Partey did offer the Gunners are right back though was the chance to have an extra body in the middle of the park. When he started there against Nottingham Forest in the opening game of the season, the Ghanaian was really a right back in name only. This is similar to what Zinchenko does when he plays the inverted full back role on the other side of the pitch.

Having Partey at right back does not mean that you can’t have Zinchenko in the team too though. When asked about the possibility earlier this season, Arteta admitted he would be open to it.

“Depends, where you have the ball, when you have it, in which areas, which other relationships you have, what type of opponent you face and what spaces they’re going to give you, where they’re trying to threaten you,” he said. “Everything is possible. I don’t think that position is defined by only certain qualities. And especially in modern football, you see that a lot.”

It’s not so much that Partey gives Arsenal one thing in particular at right back, but rather that he makes them that bit harder to predict. This is what Arteta wants.

“It was a huge blow,” he said of their absence. “We had other plans as well with (them), to become very versatile and unpredictable in our way of playing. We have not had them and that is difficult. We have them in the building, which is a joy. But we have not had them on the field as much as we wanted.”

With Partey’s return and Timber not far off, Arteta is getting closer to achieving the versatility that he dreamed of when building his squad. The Ghanaian offers Arsenal a host of different possibilities that make them the one thing that Arteta wants above all else – unpredictable.