David Luiz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored two goals in five second-half minutes after a Bernd Leno mistake had gifted Taxiarchis Fountas the opener to ensure the Gunners began Group B with a victory.
But it was the performance of £45m deadline day signing Partey that stood out. The former Atletico Madrid player was a calm presence in midfield, breaking down attacks and building play with apparently effortless ease.
It was only Partey’s second appearance in an Arsenal shirt after a late cameo in the 1-0 defeat by Manchester City in the Premier League at the weekend, and Arteta is excited by what is to come from the Ghana international.
“I think he held the midfield by himself in the second half when we were a little bit more open,” said the Arsenal boss. “He started to take more chances attacking certain spaces with some players.
“I think he was fantastic and there is much more to come from him.”
‘The best debut ever’ – pundits praise Partey
For a long time in this game, the performance of Partey was the only highlight.
The midfielder oozed class, breaking up play with well-timed tackles, getting the ball forward with calm and accurate passes and being alert to any danger posed by the hosts.
Partey made a particularly crucial intervention in the first half when he prodded the ball from under the feet of Fountas as the Rapid Vienna forward was about to shoot.
BT Sport pundit and former Manchester United and England midfielder Owen Hargreaves described it as “one of the best debuts I have ever seen”.
“He is a key ingredient of what Arsenal have been missing for years,” former England and Chelsea winger Karen Carney, commentating on the game for BT Sport, added.
“He has a knack of breaking up play and keeping the momentum going. He is pure class. He is versatile and tactically astute, gives more balance and is technically very good.
“He is brilliant and Arsenal fans will be overjoyed to see him in this team.”
Leno errors a concern for Gunners
After a tight first half in which chances were few and far between, the hosts took the lead after a big error by Leno. The goalkeeper’s attempted pass was intercepted by Fountas, who then fired home from a tight angle.
Another error by Leno almost gifted the Austrians a second when he hit a clearance straight at Fountas, but he was able to recover and parry the striker’s effort.
Arsenal lacked quality in the final third as they struggled to open up the hosts but found their bite when Aubameyang came off the bench.
Luiz put Arsenal level when he headed in Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick and Aubameyang secured the win when he tapped in from Hector Bellerin’s excellent assist.
Leno still looked nervous dealing with passes back to him and another poor clearance hit Luiz and deflected to Fountas, but this time Rapid Vienna’s top scorer could not capitalise.
But despite those mistakes, Arteta is not considering giving up on playing out from the back.
He added: “In a split second you have to make a decision, you have to make the right touch and the right pass. The opponents as well are intuitive and they are waiting for that.
“It’s something we have to keep working on because we want to play the way I want to. It’s necessary that I keep using both in our build-up play.”
Luiz oldest since Campbell – the stats
- Arsenal have won their opening group game in each of the past four Europa League campaigns.
- This was Rapid Vienna’s first home defeat in the group stages of the Europa League since October 2012, ending their 13-game unbeaten run on home soil in the group stages of the competition.
- David Luiz (33 years add 183 days) made his 50th appearance for Arsenal in all competitions and became the oldest player to score for the Gunners in major European competition since Sol Campbell against FC Porto in the Champions League back in February 2010 (35 years and 152 days).
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored 12 goals in 19 Europa League appearances for Arsenal.
- Hector Bellerin has provided three assists in his last three games for Arsenal, more than he had in his previous 38 matches for the Gunners (two).
- Thomas Partey became the first Ghanaian to start a competitive game for Arsenal since Emmanuel Frimpong in their 7-5 victory at Reading in October 2012.
Arsenal return to Premier League action on Sunday, 25 October (19:15 BST) when they host Leicester City.