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Premier League: Partey vs Ndidi headlines Arsenal’s battle with Leicester City

08:29 WAT 13/03/2022
Partey, Ndidi — Arsenal vs Leicester 2022
Both midfield men will play central roles in Sunday’s encounter at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal and Leicester City have gone in opposite directions in the 2021/22 season, but their star West African midfielders remain ever important.

The story has changed for Thomas Partey since the Gunners’ humbling defeat by Everton in December, with the Ghana superstar flourishing at the base of the midfield sitting in front of the defence.

At Watford last week, 90 touches in 90 minutes was a joint-high for the ex-Atletico Madrid midfielder, interestingly the same number as he managed in that 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park.

However, while that showing on Merseyside precipitated social media schadenfreude, last Sunday’s strong showing at Vicarage Road was lauded.

Admittedly, the forward players got most of the plaudits for their combination play and well-worked goals against the Hornets, yet Partey’s influence from deeper positions gave the North London side the solid foundation to play.

The range of his passing was a joy to watch and the intelligence to spread the play meant Arsenal were able to stretch Roy Hodgson’s side.

Partey completed 68 passes on the day — a season-high — and the breakdown made for interesting reading.

Per Fbref, 25 of those passes were short, 28 were deemed to be medium-range while the remaining 12 were long-range successful pass attempts. Respectively, it was a season-high, second-best and third-best returns this season, highlighting the impressive nature of the Ghana international’s showing last time out.

It was enough to help Mikel Arteta’s men secure a fourth straight win on the trot and they seek a fifth when Leicester visit the Emirates on Sunday.

On the opposite side is Ndidi, whose passing range may not rival Partey, but he remains important to the Foxes.

The inconsistency around the Nigerian has meant even his performance level has dipped somewhat this season, but he has shown his quality and admirable reading of the game from time to time.

Last week’s 1-0 win over Leeds United may not have been his finest showing, with an early second-half booking seeing him replaced with 15 minutes remaining to avoid a second yellow that would have ruled him out of Sunday’s visit to Arsenal.

That success over Jesse Marsch’s side was probably undeserved on the balance of play, but it was only the second time the East Midlands outfit won back-to-back league games this season and a first since October.

Claiming three Premier League wins on the trot will be a tough ask, especially when their next opponents are in such fine form like Arsenal.

Their wretched away form — which has seen them win only three of 12 all season — and a short turnaround of matches makes them heavy underdogs at the Emirates, yet Brendan Rodgers will not throw in the towel that easily.

This comes from the ex-Liverpool manager’s competitive spirit as well as the recent decisiveness of Kelechi Iheanacho off the bench.

Indeed, Jamie Vardy’s injury means the Northern Irishman has a decision to make in the striking role with Patson Daka often preferred to lead the line in the Englishman’s absence.

Having said that, the Zambian has netted only once in all competitions since late January — the 4-1 success over Randers in the Europe Conference League — having contributed to six goals (three goals, three assists) in his previous six games.

Thus, Iheanacho’s impact off the bench in the last week may give Rodgers a decision to make.

‘Seniorman’ assisted Harvey Barnes’ winning goal moments after replacing Vardy against Leeds and doubled the Foxes’ advantage in their European clash with Rennes on Thursday, making it 2-0 in second-half stoppage time.

Only Barnes has as many league assists as Iheanacho (five) despite starting 11 more games than the Nigerian who fascinatingly beats everyone in the Leicester squad for goals plus assists per 90, with Daka lying in second.

Without a doubt, there would be some sense in starting the ex-Manchester City striker at the Emirates.

Partey v Ndidi leads the African storylines before Arsenal host Leicester in the pick of Sunday’s Premier League games, but do not rule out the possibility of ‘Seniorman’ or Daka delivering statement performances in North London.