Why Partey is pivotal to how Arsenal function


A midfield general is what Arsenal have lacked since the days of the invisible wall, Gilberto Silva. Someone with athleticism, mobility and a relentless engine. But finally, after years of neglecting this fundamental profile, the Gunners captured Thomas Partey towards the dying embers of the summer 2020 window. The deadline day signing lifted the spirits of Gooners across the world and for just £45M, the deal made perfect sense.

His first major impact came against Manchester United at Old Trafford and after completely nullifying the incredible Paul Pogba in what was a man of the match display, the expectation was that the Ghanaian would kick on and become Arsenal’s midfield linchpin. Instead, injury issues and fitness problems have prevented the 27-year-old from developing a much-needed partnership with Granit Xhaka in the double pivot. Frustration springs to mind instantly since his injury record was almost faultless before arriving in North London. But it’s also no surprise since the consequences of a global pandemic meant that the pre-season period was shortened coupled with the fact that the former Atletico midfield enforcer isn’t used to the increased intensity levels provided by the Premier League.

Since the new year, however, he’s become a more frequent feature within the starting eleven, operating on the right side of midfield. When analysing his performances so far, it’s clear that Arsenal’s number 18 has plenty more gears to go and is still not in full flow. Currently, Partey at times dwells on the ball for slightly too long, takes risky touches in dangerous areas and has a tendency to get caught out in vulnerable positions, giving the opposition opportunities to capitalise on transitions. Improvements are certainly needed but external factors do also need to be considered. Partey is still undergoing the ‘Premier League adaptation period’ and clearly is still trying to find his rhythm.

But, despite the criticisms, a 40% Thomas Partey is influential and the main emphasis of this short article is to illustrate how the Ghanaian’s presence is crucial to the functionality of this Arsenal team. Typically, Arteta instructs his men to primarily operate with a 3-2-5 shape that morphs into a 2-3-5 once the ball is progressed towards the opposition half. A structure which the Spaniard doesn’t deviate away from, but what’s noticeable is that Partey’s inclusion into the eleven allows the dynamics to be altered. Against West Ham, a 3-1-6 was deployed after going 3-0 down and similarly, this structure was on show in Arsenal’s most recent Premier League encounter at Bramall Lane.


Arsenal’s in possession structure within the final third against West Ham in the second half


Against Sheffield United, Arsenal operated with a 3-1-6 structure, with Partey just behind the attackers

Partey’s ability to slow attacks down using his strength and recovery pace is a valuable asset and it allows an additional player to join the attack if needed. A clear advantage of this is that against teams who deploy a back 5 (Sheffield United), having 6 players in dangerous areas creates a favourable numerical advantage. In the diagram above, Callum Chambers is clearly the spare man in the build-up to Lacazette’s opener at Bramall Lane.

Not only this, but his progressive nature is extremely desirable and whilst he still doesn’t seem to be completely accurate with his passing so far, the build-up to Lacazette’s second goal shows his capacities of threading inch-perfect forward line-breaking passes.


Final thoughts

There’s no denying that it hasn’t been a smooth transition for Partey so far in North London. But what’s crystal clear is that he’s by far Arsenal’s most talented central midfielder and his relationship with Xhaka is the only partnership that provides a degree of sustainability. Not only this, but he’s given Arteta the confidence to set his team up to defend in a back four as opposed to a five because of his capabilities in covering space and protecting the backline. Once a full pre-season is under his belt, the expectation is that Partey’s performance levels will rise significantly, which is an exciting thought.

The importance of Thursday’s game against Slavia Prague is sky high and with Arteta’s side needing a goal, it’s expected that at times this 3-1-6 set up on the ball will be on show, with Partey needing to build on his impressive weekend showing.

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