Kalvin Phillips and Thomas Partey providing intriguing Leeds United and Arsenal subplot

LEEDS United’s return to Premier League action against Arsenal this weekend offers numerous imponderables.

Tuesday, 17th November 2020, 5:45 am

Will Gunners boss Mikel Arteta again start with a front three?

Will last season’s Golden Boot runner-up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang line up on the left again?

Who will be in combat with him as one of many intriguing battles on the pitch? Not to mention Alexandre Lacazette and Willian?

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RACE AGAINST TIME: For new Arsenal star Thomas Partey, above, and Leeds United's England international Kalvin Phillips. Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images.

Yet delve a little deeper into both the Leeds and Arsenal midfields and even the build-up to the fixture is featuring a crucial battle in terms of whether key central men Kalvin Phillips and Thomas Partey will be fit for Sunday’s 4.30pm kick-off.

United were hit with the news that their England international midfielder Phillips could be looking at around six weeks out with a shoulder injury in the aftermath of the 1-0 Premier League loss at home to Wolves on October 19.

Leeds were relieved that the problem did not require surgery but a six-week period from the day the injury was announced would nonetheless take United’s ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ up to a return date of Saturday, December 1.

Head coach Marcelo Bielsa then insisted that in actual fact the period that Phillips would be out for was “undefined” – that the timescale could be shorter or longer – and the update from Phillips himself that it could be the former was music to Whites ears.

EYES ON ARSENAL: Leeds United star Kalvin Phillips will hope to return against the Gunners. Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images.

Speaking on a podcast with LeedsThat on October 28, the 24-year-old Whites Academy graduate revealed that he had torn ligaments in his shoulder but that he now hoped to return in three to four weeks with the best case scenario of that assessment meaning a return in time for Sunday’s clash with Arsenal.

Leeds initially made light of Phillips’ absence as a Patrick Bamford hat-trick sealed a 3-0 triumph at Aston Villa.

The two games that followed have produced a rather different conclusion with United picked apart in 4-1 defeats at home to Leicester City and away at Crystal Palace.

Yet Leeds are not alone in approaching Sunday’s contest on the back of a three-goal defeat and this weekend’s visitors also share the common concern over a race against time over a key midfielder.

Arsenal made huge waves in the final throes of the summer’s international transfer window by stumping up the required £45m fee to activate a release clause to sign Ghanaian midfielder Partey from Atletico Madrid.

Partey’s Gunners debut then came as an 83rd-minute substitute in the 1-0 loss at Manchester City on October 17 before a full debut in the Europa League clash at Rapid Vienna five days later that ended in a 2-1 victory.

A full Premier League debut arrived in the 1-0 loss at home to Leicester City three days later with Partey also starting both of Arsenal’s two league games since – at Manchester United and at home to Aston Villa.

Playing in centre midfield alongside Mohamed Elneny who himself has now tested positive for COVID-19, Partey produced a fine display as the Gunners left Old Trafford with a 1-0 victory.

Yet Partey's outing in the following weekend’s hosting of Aston Villa lasted just 45 minutes with the Ghanaian suffering a thigh injury and replaced at the break for Dani Ceballos with the Gunners 1-0 down.

With the power of six-foot-one Partey clearly missed, Villa’s Ollie Watkins bagged a second half brace as Dean Smith’s side left with a 3-0 victory – after which Arteta said that only a scan would reveal the magnitude of Partey’s injury.

Sources close to Partey have reported that the problem is not serious and that the 27-year-old could return to face Leeds, but the setback was sufficient enough to ensure that Partey did not join up with the Ghana squad for their two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sudan this week.

“I wish him a speedy recovery and hope he recovers quickly to join us,” said Ghana boss Charles Akonnor.

“If he was here, he would have played, it’s a fact.”

The same would surely be true come Sunday at Elland Road such has been the impressive nature of Partey’s first appearances in a Gunners shirt.

In a similar position, Phillips is also one of the first names on the Whites team sheet, though the picture is complicated by the fact that Partey recently advertised his claims to play further forward with Atletico Madrid, as a No 8 perhaps.

Which of Partey or Phillips is further forward in their recovery now provides an intriguing subplot even before Sunday's contest begins, especially with the Gunners now also facing up to being without Elneny due to Covid.

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Thank you Laura Collins