📸: commons.wikimedia.org

As Arsenal continue their push for a place in Europe next season, more specifically, a spot in the Champions League, two players I strongly believe will be pivotal to how their season ends are Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey.

These two players have had their shares of poor runs this season with both recently being sent off in back-to-back games against the same opponent. Xhaka saw red in the first leg of Arsenal's semifinal cup tie against Liverpool, which they eventually lost in the second leg, in which Partey was himself also sent off late on barely 24 hours after Ghana crashed out of the African Cup of Nations.

Both had mixed starts to the season for the Gunners, but the pair have seem to find their rhythm playing together in the middle of the park. In a change of role, Mikel Arteta has seen Partey play in a more anchorman role in the number 6 position, making him the focal point of play and transitioning from defence to attack. He has in the same vein found a more advanced role for Xhaka, pushing the Swiss more into the opposition's final third. An example of this was seen in the game against Brentford when Aaron Ramsdale played a low pass from the back into the visitor's half and the ball was collected by Xhaka up field.

A part of Xhaka's game that has been more of a failing point for him is his marking, especially when he is in delicate positions as the last man or the final man before the defence. His tackles have not been great and this did not just start today. So, it was not too much of a surprise that Arteta has found a different role for the midfielder, where so far, he seemed to have fared well.

One thing that has been Xhaka's problem since his arrival at Arsenal in 2016 was to see a worthy partner in that middle. When he arrived, he was left to play with the likes of Francis Coquelin and Mohammed Elneny, who himself was just arriving at the club. He didn't get the quality that would have completed his tenacity. He was one of the best tough tacklers in the Bundesliga with Borussia Monchegladbach. One player I really wanted him to play with, whom sadly, he didn't kick a ball with was Santi Cazorla, who was then also being used in a deeper role by Arsene Wenger, but his final years at Arsenal were really hampered by recurring injuries. It was a partnership I longed to see, but injury to the Spaniard couldn't make that happen.

📸: commons.wikimedia.org

The arrival of Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid was supposed to make something happen, but not many knew how that would pan out as the Ghanaian himself struggled in his first season with poor form and injuries. Fast forward to recent weeks, Arteta seems to have found a way to play both players and the absence of either when the other is playing has always proven to create a lacuna.

With both players in the team, Arsenal have won seven of their last nine games; a 78% win rate and have lost 34% of the matches where both didn't play together. They. Are currently on 43 point on the table after 23 games, 11 points better than they were last season.

Their outing once again against Brentford was one that would keep Arsenal fans in cloud nine, particularly with how Partey anchored play and allowed Xhaka roam, making it less likely for the Swiss to commit unnecessary fouls in dangerous areas.

It is still arguable that this theory may be premature, however, the fruits it has already bore are succulent and Arsenal fans can only hope that both players stay fit in their run in to the end of the campaign.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe may be grabbing all the headlines there are, the balance that both Xhaka and Partey create for them in the middle is the building block upon which they are able to flourish up front.