…And in the end, Edu always gets his man! … Or one of his men. Possibly his second choice… He’s ours!
There is little anyone can say right now to sully my mood when it comes to The Arsenal. When the clock ticked down, Lyon seemed done willingly negotiating with Arsenal, Arsenal realigned themselves, possibly stretched their finances a bit to set it up, and made the decision to go get one of their top two targets.
Have outside influences played a role in pressuring this move? I would say yes and no. No, because Arsenal did really need reinforcement this year in a way that only better players can bring. As impressive as Arsenal’s finish was to last year, it was clear the team was performing better than expected, better than their xG/xA stats suggested they should be, and riding their luck a bit. Because of this, it was obvious to everyone involved that changes were needed this window.
However, is it plausible to believe that external forces demanding something big, demanding Aouar and Partey, played a role in pressuring the club to dig deep to make it happen, despite the lack of funds? I think so. Arsenal were offering Lyon a fee below the Partey release clause. Could it have been simply the fee they valued Aouar at? Very possibly, but it likely came with installments to some degree, which makes the decision to shell out 50m euro upfront for Partey a bold one. It’s a big-name, signature signing to slap your name next to for all of history, and for Vinai, Edu, and Arteta that makes sense.
Personally, I love it. I wrote a while back about Arsenal missing a central pillar in their rebuild that could occupy a core position within the squad. Obviously Aubameyang jumps to mind, but there are reasons I believed someone like Partey could fit the role a little bit differently and a little better — without down playing how crucial Aubameyang obviously will be to the team.
So, Partey is here! It took multiple years of scouting, work from Francis Cagigao to nurture the relationship, repaid by being fired earlier this summer, and was finished by Arsenal not contacting Atletico Madrid to let them know they were taking Madrid’s player. Trying to look from a third-party angle, the optics may not be brilliant, but it’s hard to understand why Atletico can be that upset at Arsenal after spending the summer refusing to negotiate terms and demanding Arenal pay the release clause.
In Spain, paying the release clause goes through the league, not through the club, so if terms were agreed between Arsenal and Partey, Arsenal simply needed to work with La Liga, not Atletico. What adds intrigue to this deal’s storyline is the fact that Lucas Torreira has been loaned to Atletico Madrid for the season meaning our partnership with Madrid isn’t complete. The drama shall go on!
In the meantime, Arsenal have acquired someone who looks to be worth every penny spent and then some.
The image above is Partey’s production over the last two year’s within La Liga and Champions League. It’s pretty evident that he thrives in quite a few aspects: progressing the ball, passes into the final third, almost 2 completed dribbles per 90 at a wonderful 84.4% rate, and some stout defensive qualities when it comes to successful pressures, interceptions, and tackles.
Defensively these stats, and a simple eye-test, show a player that wins the ball back, positions himself well, disrupts the attack, and has the work rate to read the game and make a play. 2 interceptions and 2.5 tackles a game are very impressive averages for someone that isn’t simply an outright ball-winner.
But the skillset doesn’t end once the ball is at his feet. In fact, he is clearly a versatile player that can be a stout defender, as well as, a fine attacking option — clearly the type of player Arteta dreams about. His ability to dribble and carry the ball within the midfield is something that Arsenal have lacked immensely over the last year, into this season, but to add to it, he has produced all this from a holding midfield role within Atletico’s pivot.
Partey’s progression isn’t just done off the dribble. His 6+ passes into the final third and 83% pass completion impress just as much. His ability to be a two-way player up and down the midfield or a stout holding midfielder that keeps our attack moving, while shielding our backline makes him a very exciting prospect.
When I compare him to Dani Ceballos, the two produce a rather intriguing balance. Both high dribbling success, good progression, decent pass completions, and their compatibility with one another on paper is appealing. Partey a bit more to offer on the defense, Dani a little bit more creation.
Granit Xhaka does offer another type of compatibility, should Arteta continue to look to a 3-4-3 or a 4-2-3-1 that requires two within a pivot. Much of Xhaka’s progression comes from his impressive passing range, which is something he may have more of than Ceballos. Offering his services from the left side with his left foot, Xhaka has had quite the resurgence under Arteta.
What’s clear is that adding one fantastic player to a midfield of two or three players, suddenly makes the whole midfield look exponentially more dangerous. Arteta now has to find 3 players between Partey, Xhaka, Ceballos, Elneny, Saka, Willian, and Ozil, which sounds like a much better array than the one without Partey that left fans up at night worried about Arsenal’s squad as a whole.
Are there concerns? Absolutely. He is a fantastic player, but there are concerns with him that could make sense to have. First off, Atletico play a very absorbent type of football under Simeone. They soak up pressure, they defend, and then they break out. How will Partey’s skills translate to a side that wants to dominate the ball more and be on the front foot?
Additionally, there is the realization that Arsenal are not and were never a side that was simply one player away from solving the puzzle. Even the idea that Aouar, Arsenal’s suggested top target, was some kind of silver bullet to the Arsenal rebuild is a bit foolhardy.
When it comes to Partey, people are right, he is not solving Arsenal’s issue with creativity on his own. Arsenal will still be reliant on spreading their chances throughout the side, and I expect the usage of their outside backs to continue to be a focal point of the attack. Arsenal’s wing are far and away their most dangerous aspect so creating through them will still be a staple of Arteta’s attack.
However, Partey certainly supplies Arteta with the option to expand the roles of the midfield. Much of this also has to do with the arrival and early success of Gabriel from Lille. Gabriel has proved to be a player that is excelling at settling into the league, showcasing his skills, and his 1v1 defending has been outstanding. It’s because of this that Arteta may be more willing to reduce the amount of dedicated cover the backline gets to enable Partey and Ceballos to use their box-to-box skillset to aid in the attack.
What could that look like?
Personally, I believe we saw Elneny selected over Xhaka for a few specific reasons. The largest reason being Arteta’s intent to have him drop into the backline on the right side of Gabriel and Luiz who shift toward their preffered left side. Gabriel’s shift left enabled Tierney the freedom to get down the line and overlap the left wing while Eleneny’s shift right freed Bellerin. It’s a tactic we have seen before, especially within a 4-2-3-1. Something I expect to continue in some fashion to help keep Arsenal protected against the counter.
The most important aspect of all of these formations, and Arteta’s style itself, is the fact that getting the correct personnel on the field matters much more than the formation itself. By switching to 4-back system, it’s less about having these players occupy that specific spot and play some specific role, but more about getting the extra attacker on in place of an extra defender. From there, were will continue to see a lot of fluidity and positional exchanges as Arsenal progress up the field into the attack and drop into the defense. The versitility of Partey’s two-way capabilities, opens the door to a host of opportunities.
In Arteta’s words: “We have been watching Thomas for a while, so we’re now delighted to add such a high quality player to our squad. He is a dynamic midfielder with great energy.”
Welcome Thomas, Arsenal’s new number 18!