Inside Thomas Partey's injury recovery as Arsenal midfielder targets Premier League success

There's been plenty of focus on what might have been if Jurrien Timber had been fit for Arsenal this season. Ask Mikel Arteta though, and he'll tell you there's another player whose absence has been just as devastating.

"It was a huge blow as well losing Thomas," the Spaniard said in January. "We had other plans as well with him, to become very versatile and unpredictable in our way of playing. We have not had them and that is difficult."

In recent weeks, the Ghanaian has proved why his manager was so keen to have him back. Superb back-to-back performances against Chelsea and Tottenham have helped put Arsenal's title charge back on track. They're the culmination of over half a year's worth of work.

The process began in October. Having just returned from a six week layoff to play a key part in Gabriel Martinelli's winning goal against Manchester City, Arsenal were understandably keen to manage Partey's fitness carefully. Physio Simon Murphy was sent to monitor him while on Ghana duty, and after being rested for the 2-2 draw against Chelsea, it seemed Partey could be in line for his comeback against Sevilla.

Then in the morning training session before Arsenal were due to fly out to Spain, injury struck again. Partey was understandably devastated, but talk quickly turned to managing another comeback. The African Cup of Nations were not far away, and the 30-year-old was desperate to represent his country. A number of options were presented, but it was decided that surgery would be required to get to the root of the issue.

Across the next few months Partey set about working with a personal trainer to supplement the recuperation he was doing at Arsenal. Initially he was only in at London Colney around two times a week, before returning more regularly as the momentum of his recovery built up.

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Times like this can be lonely for a footballer. Detached from your teammates and the day-to-day buzz of the dressing room it is easy to feel isolated. This is where Arsenal stepped in. Arteta was keen to have Partey involved in tactical meetings at the training ground, and he was present at every home game, coming down into the dressing room at full time and sometimes even at half time to support his teammates.

Partey was also not alone on the treatment table at Arsenal. Throughout this period Jurrien Timber, Gabriel Jesus and Takehiro Tomiyasu were all recovering too, and it is understood that the group banded together to keep each other's spirits high with constant messages of support and reaffirmations that they were on the right track.

Unfortunately the work Partey put in would not be enough for him to return for AFCON, but the blow could at least be offset by a return to training at club level. The 30-year-old was involved in the mid-season trip to Dubai and began training with the first team in the build up to their January clash with Nottingham Forest.

Then came yet another setback. This was the one that is thought to have been the most sickening for the 30-year-old. Again though, he set about trying to find the positives. Sources around the player suggest that his newborn daughter helped him to put this latest blow into perspective.

His teammates were also key once again. Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, Kai Havertz and Leandro Trossard are all thought to have been particularly supportive in keeping Partey's sprits up as he targeted yet another comeback. Arteta has worked hard to foster a family environment at Arsenal, and its effects were on full display.

Then after a friendly with QPR, finally came a return to the first team. Partey's half an hour showing against Sheffield United exhibited plenty of rust after six months out, but the 30-year-old was elated to be back involved. Cameos against Brentford and Manchester City followed, before a start against Luton allowed Partey to begin to fully trust his body again.

Having overcome the familiar hurdles associated with injury layoffs though, the Ghanaian now faced a new obstacle. Competition for his starting place.

Throughout his time at Arsenal, Partey, when fit, has been one of the first names on Arteta's team sheet. With the club record signing of Declan Rice and the impressive performances of Jorginho this season though, it has never been harder to earn a starting spot in the Gunners midfield.

While it may be new for him in north London though, this is something Partey has experienced before. During his time at Atletico Madrid, the Ghanaian faced competition from Rodri, Koke, Saul and Gabi to name but a few for his central midfield birth. He feels it made him into the player he is today.

It is of course possible that Partey can play alongside Rice. This has been key to the recent victories over Chelsea and Spurs, and is something Arteta is keen to do more often. “For sure. I will have to see that chemistry on the pitch and those qualities and the things we have to work around to make sure they play to their strengths and make each other better," the Spaniard said. “But I think that it will be a very powerful midfield.”

Despite the recent performances, questions still exist over Partey's future. The Ghanaian will have one year left on his contract this summer, and it is not thought that there have been any talks over an extension as of yet. The 30-year-old has insisted that he is fully focused on finishing the season strong for Arsenal though. Having missed him for so long, Arteta will be delighted that he's back just in time for the Premier League run in.