Arsenal wrapped up their transfer window with the acquisition of Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey. The move was unanticipated as the club decided to activate the player’s release clause in the early hours of deadline day. Fighting against time, Arsenal sealed the deal for a player who might potentially fill a major gap in the midfield, filling the void left by former skipper Patrick Vieira.
Partey had caught the eyes of Arsenal officials from the time of Unai Emery, but the now-Villareal manager opted for the expensive signing of Nicolas Pepe instead. The Ghanaian was recommended by former scout Francis Cagigao, who had discussed the preferred role with the player, which was as a deep-lying playmaker to cover the backline. Partey also mentioned his admiration for Granit Xhaka, who hit a rough patch at the end of the last year before reviving his Arsenal career under Mikel Arteta.
When Arsenal clinched the Premier League trophy during the 2003-04 season, their team was stacked with talent in every department. However, the leader of the pack was undoubtedly Patrick Vieira. After the departure of the French legend, the club have found it hard to fill the gap of a midfield general, especially since the progression of the sport since the times of Vieira.
Arsenal have roped in a number of midfielders over the years but none of them have been able to replicate the ability and desire of Vieira. But that might change with the addition of Partey. Playing under Diego Simeone at Atletico, the midfielder had to adhere to a strict tactic, which left little room for opening his game. In Partey, the club have brought in a Champions League regular, who has a lot more at stake, which might prove beneficial for both parties.
Partey will look to be the pivot of Arsenal’s midfield. In Argentinean football, this role in called the ‘Cinco’. Argentine midfield legend Fernando Redondo says, “When I think of the ‘Cinco’, I like the type of player who assumes responsibility, who always offers for the ball, the one who manages the tempo of the game. It’s a very important position; you have to have a player who knows how to play, who reads the game, who has the precision to break the opponent’s press.”
Playing under a world-class midfielder like Diego Simeone for literally his whole career, having graduated from the Atletico Madrid academy, the duties of the midfield general will now rest on the shoulders of Partey. Simeone is also known to be a staunch disciplinarian, and Partey will look to bring in a similar approach to the Arsenal midfield.
Since his appointment at the club, Mikel Arteta has been inculcating a strong possession-based tactical approach. Playing his 3-4-3 tactic when off the ball overloads the midfield with the hopes of winning the ball. Meanwhile, left-winger Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang isolates himself with the opponent left-back or centre-back and looks to beat him with his pace. In Partey, Arteta has acquired a proven ball-winner.
However, the addition of Partey now allows Arteta to shift to a preferred 4-3-3, with either Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Xhaka or Dani Ceballos and Xhaka. Ceballos, who returns to the club on loan for a second year, is not known for his defensive abilities. He will benefit from this tactical approach as the defensive capabilities of Partey will allow the Spaniard to make more forward runs and play a more creative role in the team.
According to Premier League scouts, Partey is a player who understands space on a pitch, a tactic Arteta has been experimenting with his Arsenal team. His tall and lean physique not only makes him a proven ball-winner but also a clean tackler as well as an able distributor of the ball.
The importance of the pivot is hardly spoken about in a team. Every successful side had a player who would settle himself in front of the defence and fight for the ball, giving his side enough time to fall back and break any possible counter-attacks. Many top players have played this role for their sides, such as Claude Makelele or even N'golo Kante for both Leicester City and Chelsea. More recently, Brazilian midfielder Fabinho has been playing a similar role at Liverpool, and the club marched comfortably to their first title in 30 years after a successful Champions League campaign
With pace on both wings for Arsenal, Partey might even be able to begin the team’s own counter-attacks but that is a trait he is less known for. For this particular aspect, Arsenal will need to bring in a creative midfielder. It is unsure whether they will continue their pursuit of Houssem Aouar, who was their primary target this season. If the Lyon star plays a crucial role for his side this season, he might be made even more expensive for richer clubs.
With this in mind, Arsenal have been scouting other options, including 19-year-old Hungarian footballer Dominik Szoboszlai, who plays for RB Salzburg, the club that shot Erling Haaland to the limelight. The playmaker is yet to reach the level of Aouar but has an abundance of talent which might make him key to Arsenal in the future.
Much like Jurgen Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool, Arteta has inherited a side riddled with problems across the field. He has worked on the defensive issues with the additions of Pablo Mari and Gabriel Magalhaes but their midfield looked very weak. With the addition of Partey, Arteta can hope that he has a similar effect to that of Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool, and take the Gunners back to their much due glory days.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @Arsenal