Why Arsenal should target Zambo Anguissa this Summer as a long-term Partey partner
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this summer may well represent a natural point for Granit Xhaka and Arsenal to part ways. The Swiss' contract will have just two years remaining on it, and at 28, this may well be the last opportunity to sell him for a reasonable price tag. Tying him down to a new deal would obliterate any resale value he has, and possibly reflect our poor decision making in rewarding ageing players with new long-term and expensive deals.
Despite his upturn in form since his red card at home to Burnley, his lack of tactical robustness and tendency to have rash, inexplainable moments mean acquiring an upgrade on him at some point is key to our continued progress in this long-term rebuild.
With Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi unlikely to stage dramatic redemptions at the club and Dani Ceballos' likelihood of returning to the Emirates permanently still up in the air, Arsenal may well be in the hunt for a central midfielder regardless of Xhaka's future. Improving your squad constantly is essential when trying to make strides up the league, and although Xhaka has been an important cog for Mikel Arteta throughout his tenure, he's certainly in an area of the pitch that could quite feasibly be improved with some investment.
Finding a long-term option to partner Thomas Partey in our double pivot is what our recruitment team should arguably be focusing on this summer. Outsmarting the market and using innovative scouting and data methods could be imperative in doing so, particularly when working on what we'd expect to be a very limited budget.
Thomas Partey's quality has been evident in his limited outings this season. As shown in his statistical profile below, in possession is where he thrives. Ball retention and ball progression are where he contributes the most, dictating play from deep areas with his expansive and incisive passing. However, his ability to drive from midfield with piercing, aggressive runs is also evident in his completed dribbles per 90 metric being in the top 15% out of all central midfielders in Europe's top 5 leagues in the past year.
Thomas Partey, 20/21
Defensively, his tackling ability is above average, although his active playing style doesn't result in significant tangible defensive contributions in the form of interceptions. As for pressing, when paired with Xhaka, Partey is clearly instructed to sit deeper and not engage in the cohesive press, whilst the former pushes up aggressively. As shown in his time at Atletico, when asked to press, he can do so impressively.
Thus, finding someone who has very good defensive output but can also contribute in possession- and perhaps with more ingenuity creatively- is the sort of profile we should be looking for in the upcoming window.
Enter Andre-Franck Zambo Anguissa. The Fulham midfielder was dismissed by many after the Cottage's relegation from the Premier League in 2018/19 as an expensive flop, after failing to live up to his £30 million price tag. He was brandished alongside the many other players brought in to the West London club that Summer as part of their £100 million bundle of acquisitions as a waste of money (perhaps unfairly).
However, after a successful loan spell at Villarreal last season, the Cameroonian has returned to the Premier League to light up a struggling Fulham side. Although recognition for his efforts seems to be increasing, just how good he is appears to have gone under the radar, and will thus make him more affordable. If Fulham are to go down, which right now looks very plausible, acquiring him on a budget shouldn't be too difficult.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, 20/21
As shown by Anguissa's statistical profile, he is relatively well rounded, but plugs some of the gaps Partey fails to fill. His defensive attributes standout, with his ability to make timely defensive interventions perfect for protecting the back four. His 5.17 tackles + interceptions per 90 demonstrate the defensive cover he provides. A solid foundation of both Partey and Anguissa should provide the platform for our more expressive offensive players to flourish.
As we know however, in the possession based system that Arteta appears to be leaning towards, being able to contribute on the ball is arguably more vital than what he can bring off it. Whilst not quite obtaining the progression and retention abilities of Partey (albeit he's still pretty good at these), his dribbling ability marks him out as one of the best dribbling midfielders in Europe. The staggering 3.44 successful dribbles per 90 puts him in the top 1% of central midfielders for dribbling in Europe's top five leagues.
While Partey is very adept at driving from midfielder, weaving his way out of tight situations and progressing the ball with mazy runs, Anguissa specialises in it. Putting this to the eye test, if you watch him for a full 90 minutes, you'll notice just how good he is at moving with the ball at his feet. Having two press resistant midfielders in your pivot, who can drive with the ball, makes operating in a system which relies on controlling possession to shut out the opposition a whole lot easier.
As I stated above, adding someone who can also bring a little more creative ingenuity from deeper in midfielder would be no harm as well. Whilst Partey brings creativity in a different sense, by utilising his expansive passing range deeper in the build up, Anguissa is capable of more directly contributing to chance creation. His 0.09 xA per 90 may not be outstanding, but playing for a side 13th in the xG table, it's a respectable metric. In a side that dominates possession consistently and has better offensive players ahead of him, I'd expect a greater level of creativity. Regardless, he outshines Partey's 0.05 xA.
Furthermore, his shot-creating actions per 90 of 2.01 for Fulham this season is significantly greater than the average central midfielder in Europe. Thomas Partey average at 1.70 per 90, just under the average level. Whilst neither player's role in a double pivot is to excel in direct chance creation, the fact that Anguissa contributes to this to a reasonable extent, whilst also boasting very good defensive output is encouraging.
It's pretty clear that these two players would compliment each other very well. At 25, Anguissa is 3 years younger than Xhaka, and is significantly better defensively and at dribbling. He may not quite possess the quality of passing the Swiss does, but this is already the area Partey excels in. It's a pivot that needs to happen. Make it happen Arsenal.