After weeks of long, drawn-out negotiations, Arsenal finally have their man. The signing of Thomas Partey was sealed on deadline day after the Gunners activated his £45 million release clause, much to the dismay of his former club Atletico Madrid, in a deal which has long been in the making.
Arsenal’s interest in Partey started in 2018 and the club have been watching him closely ever since. It’s easy to see why, too. The Ghanian has become one of the most dominant midfielders in Europe, thanks to a plethora of displays that underlined his immense ability and importance to Atletico’s set-up. As a result, he has drawn the attention of many clubs but the constant has been Arsenal.
Thomas Partey Can Transform the Arsenal Midfield
Standing Out From the Crowd
It’s no surprise that Arsenal went to extra lengths to secure his services. Money is now tight at the club due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and despite offloading five first-team players, extra funds were needed from the frugal owner, Stan Kroenke, to make the deal happen – a scenario which has not been common at the club for several years. This was a player who could make a difference and everyone at Arsenal knew it.
What makes Partey stand out from other midfielders in Europe is how accomplished he is in a number of areas. Defensively, having played at one of the most disciplined clubs in the world in Atletico, he has several attributes. Along with his intelligence and physicality, Partey has earned a reputation as a player with strong positioning and awareness. In La Liga last season, he made 28 interceptions – the eighth-most of any midfielder.
Partey’s combative nature also makes him a defensive presence. He ranked seventh for average tackles per game (3.6) in the Champions League last season and tenth in La Liga when it came to total ball recoveries. His impressive engine and large frame allow him to come out on top in duels, both on and off the floor, more often than not.
It is with the ball at his feet, however, when Partey arguably most excels. After collecting the ball, often from deep, the 27-year-old likes to drive forward and progress his team up the pitch through his impressive dribbling ability, therefore reducing the pressure and freeing up space for others around him. Of players to have attempted more than 50 dribbles in La Liga last season, the Partey has the highest success percentage with 81.8, even more than the great Lionel Messi (67.3).
In a time when playing out from the back has become a feature of the modern game, Partey’s desire to receive the ball early, along with his ability to carry it from deep, is vital. Arsenal are no different and their patient build-up play starting from defence has been a feature of their play under Mikel Arteta – the Ghanaian ranked first among Atletico players for total touches (639) during their 2019/20 Champions League campaign. Partey’s passing range will also play a huge role – he ranked eleventh among midfielders in La Liga last season for total passes (1524), with a success rate of 83.4%.
What makes Partey’s ability on the ball more remarkable is the fact that he has been doing it in such a pragmatic side. In the Champions League last season, he averaged 62 passes per match, and of his 493 passes in total, 71 of those were progressive and 65 went into the final third, ranking seventh and sixth respectively.
“I think the thing he has improved most in recent years is his final pass,” Javi Baños, his former youth coach at Atletico, told Sky Sports. “He is not just a defensive midfielder. He is now a more adventurous player, with freedom in his movements and scoring ability.”
Partey’s former boss, Simeone, is also a fan. “Thomas is an extraordinary player,” he said last year. “He is the one who best understands his position. The transition from defence to attack, shooting, scoring, providing assists and playing passes between the lines.”
Partey is also contributing even further up the field. He scored four goals in all competitions last season, to add to his three goals and six assists in the 2019/20 campaign. In addition, he ranked first for Atletico for open-play chances created (11) in the Champions League last season and third for total shots (15). Last season’s second-leg victory at Anfield was the perfect example of Partey’s all-round ability, with the midfielder ranking top for dribbles, chances created, passes in the final third and tackles. In addition, only Joao Felix and Saul Niguez had more shots.
Partey’s Value to Arsenal
So where can Partey fit into Arsenal and how can he improve them? Firstly, his all-round attributes seem perfect for Mikel Arteta’s set-up, which currently features two central midfielders in a 3-4-3 formation that revolves around an organised structure, tireless work off the ball and width in attack. The 27-year-old has plenty of experience of playing in a midfield pivot for Atletico and his presence could allow the likes of Dani Ceballos to play further up the field or Granit Xhaka in a deeper position, depending on the Partey’s role.
Should Arsenal attempt to play more adventurous football, particularly at home against weaker opposition, Partey’s ever-improving attacking traits should be useful, as would his ability to play on the right side of a midfield three if Arteta opts to go with four-at-the-back. On the other hand, should the Arsenal boss go with a pragmatic set-up, something we have seen a lot of during his time in charge, Partey’s physical presence and ability to sit and play the ball from deep should also be vital.
“I’d seen him play for Atletico but I didn’t realise how good he is,” said Partey’s former team-mate Kieran Trippier on The Beautiful Game podcast. “He’s unbelievable, his physicality, how he breaks up play. Technically he’s got everything. I don’t think he would have a problem with the Premier League.”
He has shown his abilities against Europe’s best, and now Partey has the opportunity to display his consistency in the toughest league in the world. It has taken a while, but Arsenal’s latest addition brings with him a serious number of attributes and it could be the one that takes Arteta’s project to the next level.