He is the man of the moment. Thomas Partey was trending worldwide yesterday after comments from his agent suggested he was open to a move away from Atletico Madrid. His agent added that Arsenal were in negotiations with Atletico to work out a way to bring Partey to the Emirates. But what exactly does Thomas Partey bring to Arsenal? Here’s a no nonsense, to the point writeup about how Mikel Arteta could use Thomas Partey in his system.
The man of the hour
Thomas Partey is a central midfielder capable of making tackles, winning the ball back and controlling midfield. He has been one of Atletico’s most consistent players and runs the midfield along with Saul. Contrary to what you might have read on Twitter over the last 24 hours, Thomas Partey isn’t exactly a defensive midfielder. This makes it even more interesting as to why Mikel Arteta wants to sign him.
There are multiple scenarios possible if Thomas Partey leaves Atletico Madrid to join Arsenal. The first scenario is where Partey signs for Arsenal and none of the current midfielders at Arsenal leave the club. This would mean the gaffer’s midfield options are Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi and Willock besides the new signing. One important question to answer here is the pecking order among these midfielders. It is highly possible that Xhaka will hold his position in the squad as the number one midfield choice while Partey takes second priority and pushes everyone else down by one place.
The usual 4-2-3-1
If Mikel Arteta continues using his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation then it could see Arsenal lineup with Xhaka and Partey in midfield. This setup would allow the left back to continue pushing up and create a vertical overload on the left flank while Xhaka covers for him. Torreira is a very good defensive midfielder and is capable of making crunch tackles but he lacks the qualities required to see him succeed in the final third. Partey is better than Torreira in making forward passes, physically dominating the midfield, completing a defense splitting pass and even scoring from outside the box. It is a no brainer that Xhaka and Partey would become Arsenal’s first choice midfield pairing if Arteta continued with a 4-2-3-1.
The exciting 4-3-3
An even more exciting prospect is Mikel Arteta changing his tactics to a 4-3-3. It is a no brainer that the midfield lacks steel and strength. If the club cannot sign a new attacking midfielder to replace Ozil in the current transfer window or Ozil doesn’t want to leave then it won’t be surprising to see a 4-3-3 at the Emirates. One of the biggest reasons why this setup suits the side more is because it brings out the best of all their three first choice central midfielders. Xhaka, Torreira and Partey would dominate the midfield like never before.
Torreira could play as the deepest lying midfielder among the three while being flanked by Xhaka on the left and Partey on the right. Placing Xhaka on the left allows the side to continue using his adaptability to keep making attacks from that flank. Granit’s short passing, vision to sense danger and reading of the game are very solid. He does tend to make that one unforced mistake but it can be taken care of when you play him in a midfield three. There is a clear pattern in Xhaka’s mistakes. They only happen when he is isolated and lacks support from teammates. In such an instance he doesn’t have much of a choice rather than to take one for the team.
In a 4-3-3, Xhaka has the luxury of Torreira behind him. If the opposition goes past Xhaka then he still has to get past Torreira first before he can even make it to the defenders, forget about shooting at goal. On the other side, Partey could play in a box to box role and help Arsenal overturn possession high up the pitch. Unlike Torreira, Partey has the ability to complete forward passes and score from outside the box. These attributes could help him settle in the side as a number 8 rather than a number 6.
He doesn’t have to keep pushing forward all the time but he can strengthen the midfield when Xhaka covers at left back thus creating a virtual 2-3-5 on the pitch. The 2-3-5 was widely used by Erik ten Hag’s Ajax in their famous 2018-19 Champions League campaign. The setup helped them to play fearless and direct attacking football. The same football which Arteta wants to replicate at Arsenal. It is not surprising that Pep Guardiola has used the 2-3-5 extensively at Manchester City.
With Xhaka and Partey on either side, Lucas Torreira can settle into his preferred defensive midfield role. He is best at making tackles, winning the ball and controlling his own half of the midfield. A 4-3-3 helps bring out the best of Torreira and also allows the team to play attacking football. If either of Xhaka and Torreira leave in the summer then it becomes extremely hard to fit a 4-3-3 with the remaining players.
Xhaka’s exit would mean an end to overloads on the left flank while Torreira’s exit hurts the defensive side of things at the club. To some extent, Guendouzi could slot into Xhaka’s role but it would be without the left back cover which Xhaka provides. Willock can slot in as the box to box midfielder while Partey will have to drop deeper and slot in Torreira’s defensive midfield role.
The last word
There are a lot of things that may or may not work in this setup if either Xhaka or Torreira leave. It is important to realize that no player is perfect and neither is Thomas Partey. Partey’s first touch is probably his biggest weakness. He takes more than average time to control the ball after making an interception. This leaves him vulnerable to lose the ball a lot of times every game. The La Liga and the Premier League are completely different leagues.
Your midfield tempo dictates whether you win or lose matches in England. In a two man midfield, Partey would be highly vulnerable to losing possession whenever he completes an interception. In a three man midfield, he has support and bodies around him which gives him the extra second he needs to control the ball. At times, Partey completely fails to read the danger and finds himself pushed in his own box by the opponent. It makes sense to leave Torreira behind to handle this part of the game while Partey can focus on turning defense into attack.
There’s a lot of work left before Partey becomes an Arsenal player but he could help be the missing piece in Arsenal’s midfield which the club has been searching for so long.
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