Why Thomas Partey would represent a PHENOMENAL signing
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Arsenal are in dire need of midfield reinforcements, particularly if we are to evolve into the more progressive 4-3-3 system that I eluded to in my last piece. Granit Xhaka lacks the mobility and defensive nous to fill a role in this flat three, Dani Ceballos is unlikely to remain at the club next season, whilst Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi still have elements to their game which make their inclusion in this system questionable (at the moment).
A key part of this three is finding a midfield linchpin who can occupy the number six role. As my deputy editor and good friend Daniel eluded to in his last piece, there are three main attributes that this player must possess, and to a very high standard. They must be an effective ball progresser, be an imposing figure, physically and psychologically, and they must possess defensive awareness and tenacity.
Step forward Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid. On first hearing, you’d think this is a rather unlikely acquisition, given his stature and importance to the way Atléti play. However, if you were to listen to the media in the last month or so, it would appear this transfer is perhaps more likely to occur than you’d expect. Reports are suggesting that the Ghanaian is very willing to come to the Premier League, and was last summer ‘desperate’ to make the move to North London and play under Unai Emery, but we simply did not have the financial resources to make this happen having failed to qualify for the Champions League.
Rumours are circulating that Partey has no interest in signing a new contract at the club, and is willing to force through a move when the transfer window opens. Whether this is all speculation or there is substance to it we’ll have to wait and see, but it would certainly be a major coup if we could pull it off.
Partey is a phenomenal footballer, and perhaps underrated by the general public. He’s widely recognised to be the cog in the Atléti ship- the key player that enables their system to function. Not only does he possess all the attributes to make him one of the most effective defensive midfielders in the world, he’s also superb on the ball, and is the creative hub of this Atléti team.
His defensive positioning and awareness allow him to sniff out danger and halt opposition attacks. This is evident in his 1.3 tackles and 0.8 interceptions made per 90 minutes in La Liga this season- not stunning numbers for a conventional number six, but numbers that demonstrate just how good he is positionally as he has to make fewer defensive actions than players that play a similar role do, with his positioning doing the job.
This awareness of where he is on the pitch would enable him to fit perfectly in the system I expect Arteta to use in the future. With the two attacking eights beside him pushing on and occupying the half spaces, a player who lacks positional awareness may struggle and be left isolated in the transition, but Partey knows where to position himself to nullify this issue (an issue someone like Matteo Guendouzi would massively struggle with).
As I’ve eluded to, Partey is far from just a defensive midfielder. He possesses the creative assets and on the ball abilities of a deep-lying playmaker. At 8.3 deep progressions per 90 minutes, he ranks as the sixth most prolific ball progressor in La Liga this season. He frequently flings vertical passes from deep areas, and is able to provide perfectly weighted balls over the top of an opposition presses, a great outlet for a team like us, who are often nullified by being pressed to the ground.
Atléti are incredibly relient on Partey for his build up ability. He boasts an impressive 85% pass accuracy this season, as well as an xGBuildUp of 0.74 per 90, a very impressive stat for a player who sits so deep in a compact team. In a possession based system he may take a little bit of time to adapt, but the underlying numbers show that he is already well equipped to slot in perfectly to a team that dominates the ball.
I’ve stressed for a while now the importance of adding some athleticism and physicality to our feeble midfield. This is another void Partey could fill. Despite configuring a 6’1” frame, the Ghanaian is an incredibly impressive dribbler of the ball, and often drives Atléti’s low block up field with power and pace. He completes 1.65 dribbles per game, a stat only bettered by 3 other midfielders in La Liga. His athleticism would add an element of security and stability to what has been a chaotic Arsenal midfield which is so often caught in the counter transition, and unable to break the press.
Yes, he is basically the modern day Patrick Vieira. He could be the player finally able to fill this role since the Frenchman left the club back in 2005. At 26, he is at the peak of his powers and would represent a wonderful bit of business if the Arsenal board could pull it off. Make it happen Raul.