Could a Trio of Partey, Odegaard and Smith Rowe be the Long-Term Midfield Solution for Arsenal?
Updated: Mar 8
By Daniel Finton (Deputy Editor)
Being an Arsenal fan can be incredibly difficult as many and most reading this know full well. While the club is one of the most supported in world football, there is seemingly always an issue that we're desperate to have solved. Each problem takes ages to fix, and after it resolved at long last, another one comes up.
Under Arsene Wenger, the Gunners struggled defensively for large portions of his tenure, and now under Mikel Arteta, the side is not nearly as easy on the eye, but far more resilient in the back. It almost seems like Gooners are just not allowed to have a full proof team to watch, there is always something very wrong, somewhere within the side.
Presently, the solid foundation, coupled with the individuals up top, that are capable of scoring goals makes Arsenal needing to improve the midfield all the more apparent. For the first time in ages, the Reds of London have a top and bottom slice of bread, so to speak.
Under Wenger, we had the good stuff in the middle, but the foundational wheat squares were stale on one side, and depressingly soggy down below. The metaphorical sandwich of sorts that represents the team, now has two slices of really good, and fresh bread that symbolize attack and defense, but the proteinic middle ground has depreciated in quality majorly. There is really nothing of note in the middle at this time, apart from the singular slice of ridiculously good meat that is Thomas Partey.
Or is there?
With the abrupt emergence of Emile Smith Rowe and the loan signing of Martin Odegaard comes a new hope for the Arsenal faithful. Whilst before, the likes of Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos often flattered to deceive as neither are particularly great in the final third of the pitch, that has changed since the arrival and surfacing of Odegaard and Smith Rowe.
Questions were asked as to whether or not the pair could play together, initially, and now if one looks at the currently small sample size in hopes for an answer, the response will likely be a “yes.” Odegaard and Smith Rowe are very different players from each other, and it’s fair to say that, that was unknown to many once the former was brought in. However, since the Norwegian has done, it’s grown obvious that he is more of a “passer,” while his English counterpart is a better “runner.”
Like Arsenal, I’ve waited ages to provide a solution to a self-created issue that has been sprung up in this very articles title. Can Partey, Odegaard and Smith Rowe be a successful midfield trio for Arteta?
Profile-wise, certainly. If one simply watches the three, it is obvious that each are completely different players from one another. Partey is an anchor, and a physical specimen who has a world class passing range. As for Odegaard and Smith Rowe, each of their styles were just mentioned previously. I personally coin each as a “passer,” and “runner,” respectively. If the trio was deployed in the middle of the park in a fashion that saw Partey as a Regista and Smith Rowe and Odegaard as Mezallas, the trifecta may induce a really exciting pattern of play in the midfield.
To start, Partey already seems like one of, if not the best player at Arsenal. There is little doubt that he will be the general in the side's middle sector for the foreseeable future. As one can see from the radar created by Chief Editor Alfie Culshaw, the Ghanaian specializes in deep progression and maintaining possession.
Also, while the former Atletico man is far from an out and out defensive midfielder, he's still amazing defensively. If he was deployed with the prospective young pair of Mezallas, then he would be tasked with doing what he is best at. Keeping everything ticking with his impeccable passing range, while also being a sturdy “brick wall,” that shields the back line.
He's not an out and out back line protector, but he is certainly more than adequate at carrying out such a task in a top-class fashion. The pricey midfielder has already shown that he is an utter beast in what could soon be a Regista role, and that is accentuated by the fact that he boasts an impressive 3.05 PAdj Tackles per 90, along with 3.4 Pressure Regains too.
Furthermore, if one looks to Partey’s radars from his time under Diego Simeone, it becomes obvious that such impressive numbers in such a small sample size in the Premier League may be sustainable going into the long-term future.
The aforesaid attributes were solid in his 2018/2019 campaign, especially, with 2.4 PAdj Tackles per 90, and 4.1 Pressure Regains. But as was mentioned previously, Partey is far from an out and out defensive midfielder, him managing over 1.5 Successful Dribbles per 90 is proof that he’d be a more than fine Regista attacking-wise as well as defensively. Playing him in such a role could be what gets the best out of him given his strengths.
To move on from the succulent slunk of metaphorical meat that is Partey, Odegaard is without a shadow of a doubt the most hopeful component within this trio listed by yours truly. But who could blame me and many other Arsenal fans for hoping he stays? The 22-year-old loanee is essentially Arsenal personified.
The silkiness and vision dovetailed with his clear willingness to work makes him a great player to watch -- maybe even one of the best at the moment. And seeing as he is so different to Smith Rowe, he and what would be the other Mezalla would complement each other tremendously.
Like Partey, Odegaard is a spectacular passer of the ball, he too would help to maintain possession and keep things ticking. During his time on loan at Real Sociedad, he boasted some absolutely incredible passing numbers. With an overall pass completion rate of around 81% and an xG assisted of 0.21 per 90, it can be inferred that the player is precise and quite creative too.
Seeing as a large portion of his career has been spent in Spain, his passing abilities make sense, and beautiful sense at that. Having two players that specialize in keeping the ball in him along with the Ghanaian Regista, and then Smith Rowe, who is a bigger threat in front of goal, could work wonders. What's even more incredibly impressive about the player who may break my heart, is the fact he's already has managed 25 international caps. That is in large part down to the fact that he plays with a style and confidence well beyond his years.
When the 22-year-old takes to the pitch the only thing that informs you of his young age is his baby face, and his almost youthful level of optimistic willingness to run and move. His vision and artistic way of playing would add an element to the trio that neither Partey nor Smith Rowe would. Out and out, traditional creativity.
Last, but certainly not least, the English Kevin De Bruyne. Seeing as Smith Rowe has already been likened to one of the best midfielders in the world in terms of style, I’ll save the descriptors. The Croydon-born 20-year-old has managed around 1.2 Shots per 90 (0.1 xG/Shot). He takes around 2.9 touches in the box per 90, so that shows that if he is deployed in a modern trifecta, he may be the one given the task of surging forward. One would expect that, at least.
In just 12 matches, Smith Rowe has managed 4 assists, that is an attestment to how potent he is once he enters the danger area. His ability to play the final ball, and his knack for scoring goals in an almost Aaron Ramsey-esque fashion leads me to believe that from this list, he may actually be the one best suited to such a midfield system, if not Partey. His only downfall is the lack of potency in his pressing numbers. That could lead to systematic issues down the line, however, potent pressing is a skill that the ever-young player could surely master over time.
To close, while such a trio is merely hypothetical for the time being, it could work, and work well in my opinion. If the club can manage to keep Odegaard, then I would want to see Arteta at least give such a system a go.
At such a point, Granit Xhaka would be a backup to Partey, if he stayed, and if Dani Ceballos signed permanently, he would be a fill in for any of the three mentioned in the headline. The Spaniard could serve as a utility man in the area as he does not appear as though he could serve as an out and out specialist in the Mazzella or Regista role.
Time will tell whether or not Arteta opts for such a three sometime in the future, but it could be what helps to fix the issue in the middle of the park. If he does so, and it proves effective, the next stop on Arteta's managerial route to success will be whatever conundrum inevitably comes to light next. Arsenal just can't have a perfect sandwich.