Declan Rice can lead the charge now that it’s Partey time for the Gunners… as Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta insists his side will have a ‘very powerful midfield’ as they head into Sheffield United clash

  • Thomas Partey will return to availability for Arsenal’s trip to Sheffield United
  • The midfielder’s return will strengthen Arsenal’s defensive resolve
  • ‘The mouse is in a corner!’ Watch and discover the latest goings on at Chris Sutton’s farm, as his cats benefit: It’s all Kicking Off podcast

They have the meanest defense in the Premier League – and the long-awaited return of Thomas Partey could make Arsenal even meaner.

The Gunners have the most clean sheets (10) and have conceded the fewest goals (23) in the division, following a reset since defeats to Fulham and West Ham in late December appeared to have sent their title bid into freefall.

The regular formation of Gabriel Jesus or Eddie Nketiah in the lead, with Kai Havertz on the left side of midfield and Declan Rice in a supporting role, has been adjusted in recent times. Rice, as we saw in the crucial games against Liverpool and Newcastle last month, plays a roaming role when given the protection of Jorginho playing behind him.

The England man played seven passes into the penalty area against the Magpies – as many as he has done in a single match this season – as Arsenal won 4-1. With Partey set to return from a thigh injury that has ruled him out since October, Rice should have the protection to make further outings.

“Rice and Partey have only played together in midfield in the Community Shield,” manager Mikel Arteta said ahead of tonight’s trip to Sheffield United. ‘That says how much we missed Thomas. The impact he can have over the next three months could be huge.

Declan Rice can lead Arsenal’s midfield as Thomas Partey finally returns to availability

Partey (left) returned to full training last week and is in line to start at Bramall Lane

Partey (left) returned to full training last week and is in line to start at Bramall Lane

“I’ll have to see that chemistry on the field and those qualities; the things we need to do to ensure they (Rice and Partey) play to their strengths and make each other better. But I think that will be a very powerful midfield.’

Staal runs through Arteta’s team, who are hot on the heels of Liverpool and Manchester City, chasing hard and defending as if their lives depend on it.

It has been instilled in the team that keeping the sheets clean is a collective responsibility.

“Eleven players take ownership and they are responsible for everything that happens on that pitch,” Arteta said.

‘And then their attitude, their love – that love to defend. You’ve got to love it. If you don’t, it’s because the manager is yelling and pushing you. If you put something into their system and they enjoy doing it and are proud of doing it, they celebrate defensive actions like they give an assist or a goal. Then you can take that to another level.

‘That spreads through the team. That’s contagious. Everyone has to be connected, because every space, the timing of it, the approach, the distances you have between the players, to read certain intentions and structures of the opponent, it’s a lot of things, but they know it now. We must continue to do that.’

After a wave of injuries, Arsenal is almost back to full strength. A decision will be made late on whether full-backs Oleksandr Zinchenko and Takehiro Tomiyasu make the squad. Jurrien Timber remains out but has started his integration into first-team training.

Partey's return will be a boost for Arsenal, who have been in top form of late

Partey’s return will be a boost for Arsenal, who have been in top form of late

The Gunners may be on the rise now, but Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder recalls some calling for the Spaniard’s head – especially after crashing out to Villarreal in the 2021 Europa League semi-final – under the guidance of their old boss Unai Emery.

“I have an incredible amount of respect for Mikel because he went through tough times at Arsenal and got through them,” Wilder said.

‘At some point everyone thought something would change. But Mikel came through and won an early trophy (the FA Cup in 2020) after knocking us out during lockdown. The way Mikel is progressing, moving and building his team is really good to see.”

Wilder’s side, bottom of the table, suffered crushing defeats to Brighton and Aston Villa last month and he added: ‘I don’t want us to be a pushover. Sometimes that has been the case, but that will not happen again in the future, I tell you that.’

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