Thomas Partey – An in Depth Look at Arsenal’s Deadline Day Arrival
By James Whiffing
As the long and draining summer transfer window began to draw to a close, it seemed that Arsenal would yet again fail to land any of their top targets, having only signed Willian for free and Gabriel for around £30 million including add ons.
The disappointing window coupled with the news that Houssem Aouar is staying at Lyon understandably infuriated Arsenal fans, who have continued to grow more and more frustrated with the senior figures at the club due to their failure to match Mikel Arteta’s ambition. However, with hours to go before the closure of the summer transfer window, various sources were reporting that Arsenal were planning to trigger Thomas Partey’s release clause; this sent Arsenal fans into a frenzy.
The Gunners had been linked with Partey for the past few years, although it seemed as though we’d never make a concrete approach to sign him. So when Arsenal finally showed some urgency and got the deal over the line before the 11pm deadline, fans were absolutely delighted.
Ever since Vieira departed the club back in 2005, Arsenal have really struggled to identify a replacement for him; the Frenchman offered much needed steel in midfield while also offering dynamism both on the ball as well as off it. All of Vieira’s best traits/abilities also lie in the Ghana international's locker too; the two players share many similarities, so much so that Partey is considered by many Arsenal fans as a potential successor to the legend. With that, let's get into the deep details of the new Arsenal signing.
Thomas Partey's Background
Partey joined Atletico Madrid B in June 2012 before making the step up to the first team squad in February 2013. Due to his inexperience in his early twenties of playing regular football to a decent standard, the Ghanaian was loaned out to La Liga 2 side Mallorca in July 2013, with the midfielder scoring 5 goals in 38 games for the club.
He also enjoyed another successful loan spell (this time in La Liga) with Almeria in July 2014; Partey scored 4 times in 32 appearances. He then returned to the Atletico first team in May 2015 and continued to gain experience with the club, playing a handful of games a season and even picking up the occasional league start.
Partey’s breakthrough season came at Atleti during the 2017/18 season, where he made a staggering 50 appearances in all competitions, scoring 5 goals from the defensive midfield role. Partey then went on to become a crucial cog in Diego Simone’s bulletproof system and gained a reputation as a world class midfielder.
Partey's Main Strengths
One thing Partey is well known for is his impressive progression skills. The Ghanaian averages a decent 2.1 dribbles per 90, which is complimented brilliantly with his fantastic dribble success rate of 87%. He also averages 2.2 take ons per 90 with 9 final third entries per 90. Partey is a deep-lying playmaker (when his team are in possession), so it is his job to progress the ball up the pitch and push his team forward.
The 27-year-old also excels at long passing; he thrives at breaking the line when a run is made by one of his teammates since he will almost always find them with a pass. Partey also possesses impressive link-up skills; when at Atletico, he would frequently play quick one-twos with the likes of Saul before laying it off to a teammate. Partey’s ball progression skills are level with, if not better than his new, Arsenal midfield teammates.
Another of Partey’s obvious strengths are his defensive capabilities. The Ghana international averages 3.9 tackles and interceptions per 90 and 2.49 tackles per 90, showing that he is just as good without the ball than he is with it. He also averages 8.17 ball recoveries per 90, 1.61 interceptions per 90 and 1.42 clearances per 90; he averages similar defensive stats to Arsenal’s current midfield options (Dani Ceballos makes 2.66 tackles and 8.19 ball recoveries per 90, the departed Lucas Torreira made 1.97 interceptions per 90 etc).
Partey has also shown that he is decent in the air, with the Ghanaian midfielder winning 66% of his aerial duels in the 2019/20 season for Atletico.
Partey's Minimal, but Present Shortcomings
Thomas Partey has proved to be such a complete, well-rounded player that there aren’t any huge, glaring flaws in his game. One thing that can be said, however, is that he can occasionally lose concentration in a game; this can at time be fatal for a team since Partey plays as the deepest midfielder in the centre of the Atletico side, so if he were to lose the ball then the opposition would be baring down on the unprotected and exposed backline.
Furthermore, ‘WhoScored’ say that no one has committed more errors leading to an opposition shot than the Ghana international (7) since the start of 2019/20 La Liga season.
Another weakness of Partey’s is his (at times) recklessness in challenges. Last season (2019/20 season) alone Partey earned 14 yellow cards in all competitions, with the former Atleti man accumulating a grand total of 34 yellow cards and 1 red card in all competitions since his breakthrough season (2017/18); this shows that at times Partey can make unnecessary/rash challenges when he doesn’t always need to.
On the other hand, you could interpret this in a more positive way and say that it brings more aggression, dynamism and steel to a relatively static and tame Arsenal midfield with transitional fouls.
How Partey Will Fit in and Improve Arsenal
After seeing Arteta adopt a three/five at the back formation since his arrival as head coach last season, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Partey to feature in a midfield pivot with either Xhaka or Ceballos. However, it could be argued that all three of the midfielders mentioned above are too good/influential to drop, so we could expect Arteta to deploy what seems to be his preferred, long-term formation of a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with the likes of Xhaka, Ceballos and Partey all featuring (with Aouar potentially being another option in the future).
With a three/five at the back formation, we should see Partey in a midfield pivot with Xhaka or Ceballos. If he plays with Xhaka next to him, we should see the Ghana international play a box to box role, contributing in attack and defence depending on whether Arsenal are in possession of the ball. Partey is very athletic and fit with plenty of stamina, so he can easily slot in a fulfil this role. This would also suit Xhaka, who can utilise his long passing as a deep-lying playmaker whilst also not being exposed for his lack of pace/being forced out of position in order to help the team attack.
If he were to line up next to Ceballos, the role would change. We know that Ceballos is naturally a more creative midfielder; this role enables him to showcase his quick feet, flair and exceptional vision for a killer pass to a teammate, whilst also allowing him to drop back and show his tenacious, gritty side in the middle of the park.
Considering the fact that Ceballos would most likely be playing further up the pitch, this would mean that Partey would play as a deep lying playmaker. This will enable Partey to utilise his long-range passing and vision skills whilst also allowing him to showcase his link up skills with Ceballos as he did with Saul at Athletico Madrid.
However, if Partey was to play in a three-man midfield, I feel as though he would play a unique blend of the two roles mentioned. I think it will be a combination of both Xhaka and Ceballos’ roles, but I feel that it will be heavily dependent on what side we are playing against. Squaring up to better teams would see Partey play in a more defensive role. However, against inferior opposition, the Ghanaian may play further up the pitch.
It goes without saying that Partey significantly improves Arsenal’s squad; the 27-year-old adds aggression, dynamism and steel to the flat Gunners midfield. His well-roundedness will add quality of the attack and defence as well.
While he is not an out and out creator, which is what Arsenal really needed, he will still improve the middle of the park tremendously. At long last, the Reds of London have finally landed their long time target.