IT WAS past versus present in the midfield at the Emirates tonight.

Having come through the academy, Joe Willock finally left his boyhood club Arsenal in the January window of 2021 – on loan to Newcastle – before joining permanently that summer.

Thomas Partey stood out in the middle for Arsenal

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Thomas Partey stood out in the middle for ArsenalCredit: PA

He was billed as that box-to-box engine room that the Gunners had been missing since Patrick Vieira.

Ultimately, he fell short, never quite showing those capabilities in red.

It is safe to say he has found a home in black and white, and is an integral part of Eddie Howe’s plans to crash the top four.

Willock’s move away coincided with the arrival of Thomas Partey in the summer of 2020.

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For long periods, it was felt the Ghanian may end up following the path of Willock in terms of never living up to his potential, despite rocking up in North London age 27.

His fitness in the early stages of his Arsenal career was a concern, as was his erratic nature on and off the ball and frustrating tendency to fire a long-range shot into the clock end.

Those days are long gone.

Up against an old teammate in Willock, one of boss Mikel Arteta’s first major signings in Partey is proving more and more why he is the real deal.

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And if Arsenal do go on to win the title from here, he will be most deserving of a medal.

This was not Arsenal’s best night of the season against the Toon, anything but.

Yet on a night when several of their stars had an off night, Partey stood up.

His anticipation for an interception was second to none as he foiled several Newcastle counter attacks through the middle, and was cute when it came to winning fouls.

There were times when he knew when to sit deep and sweep up danger, even if it meant Arsenal’s press was not as effective as it could be as a result.

The saying goes that these are the nights when Arsenal usually crumble, when they make mistakes or concede late on to crush any momentum in what is now a title race.

Not with Partey in the side.

At this stage of the campaign, with games coming thick and fast and the pressure building, Arteta will be praying Partey stays fit and firing.

It must be said, Willock had a fine game too, back under the lights at the Emirates.

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But Partey – the club’s new Mr. Reliable – is the man on everyone’s lips right now.

His transformation has been nothing short of incredible.



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