It’s a little odd to have a weekend without Arsenal, or Premier League, or transfer window drama. No flights being tracked nor cloud formations being analyzed or compared and contrasted between London skies and Instagram photos. It feels odd, but a bit of relief is always nice, especially after the end of a window saw your team in the thick of the action. After all, there is no day more frustratingly dull than a deadline day where your team isn’t doing anything. Arsenal made moves, it was very exciting, and Partey was signed.
While there is no Premier League, we are in an interlull with international matches, which meant that some people were buzzing to try and catch a glimpse of Arsenal’s new man in Ghana’s midfield. Ghana got beaten soundly by Mali 3-0, but I won’t pretend I watched the whole match. However, while searching for extended highlights to write about it, I did manage to stumble upon a complete recording of the match on YouTube and took 10 minutes just to click through it, and I have it playing on my screen while writing today’s blog, so that counts for something, right?
Obviously, everything you see within a match like that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt…or a cup of salt. It’s an international friendly, it’s a different system, it’s a different tone, feel, and quality, and in the case of Partey, it’s an entirely different role. On paper he lines up in the midfield as a part of Ghana’s pivot, much like many will expect him to play for Arsenal, but when it comes to playing, he is asked to be just about everywhere. He spent some time in very attacking positions, some deeper as a holding midfield, and many minutes playing a very box-to-box role. Surely, much of this has to do with the quality player he is and how much better he is than the rest of the Ghanaian side — no disrespect to the team or other players.
What we can look at, however, is the intent of his play, the qualities on display, and how it might carry over. There were plenty of moments he showed a keen ability to keep good midfield shape and structure, and some good examples of leading a press, albeit from the front. He showed a good amount of strength on ball, especially in a few tight spaces that he managed to wriggle his way free from, and some great progressive balls forward when playing his holding midfield role. There were a few wayward long balls that didn’t reach his target, but all in all, it’s pretty clear to see what Arteta will like about him.
That strength on and off the ball. That keen ability to get himself and his team out of trouble with his feet or through a pass. An obvious versatility in what zones of the pitch he can comfortably play within. And some sharp tackling to top it off. If you were looking for an experienced player that could offer you a well-rounded presence in the midfield and allowed you to build a compatible midfield around, he may just be the ticket.
Whether that means he will be ready to go come Manchester City in a week may be a different story. Playing against a Pep side will take everyone on the exact same page, understanding the tactics and goals, and sticking to them for 90 minutes. Partey is a quality player, but it may be a tall order to believe he can learn Arteta’s system, build chemistry with other players, and be ready for it by Saturday enough to be an effective part of a match that may come down to the inches. But if Arteta thinks differently, I am definitely all for it. Looking forward to Partey bringing those skills to Arsenal’s subpar midfield composition.
Sticking with the midfield but moving to someone who will no doubt be putting their best foot forward to continue being a regular member of Arsenal’s midfield — Dani Ceballos.
Yesterday, Ceballos gave an interview to the press in preparation for Spain’s matchup with Granit Xhaka and Switzerland. Without making a meal of the match, I can’t help but think about the fact that both these players know the other likely stands in their way as top competition for the Arsenal midfield job.
Do they view this match against one another as an opportunity to demonstrate their superiority over the other in a competitive match?
Even as a UEFA Nations League match, both teams will have their hearts set on winning and I can’t help but wonder which will put on a better show if given the opportunity.
Putting that aside, it was Ceballos’ interview that drew a lot of attention from Gunner fans around the world. Talking about his time at Arsenal, Ceballos said, “I found a position which isn’t usual for me, a bit more defensive. The Premier League takes you to the limit both physically and technically. I think I’ve improved a lot over the last six months.”
It’s been that shift from trying to be an outright, attacking number 10, to someone who sits deeper that has made all the difference. Interestingly, it took Mikel less than a month on the job at Arsenal to see that the isolated attacking midfield role was not the one for Ceballos. Back in January 2020, Mikel said, “Defensively he can play in a two, rather than as a number 10. I don’t really see him as an isolated number 10 playing with two holding midfielders.”
This likely rules out a return to that role within a 4-2-3-1, even with Partey, but it doesn’t rule out Ceballos taking up a more attacking role within a 4-3-3, or even more attacking emphasis from the pivot of a 4-2-3-1. I have made it no secret that I believe Ceballos will be the most critical player within the Arsenal squad when it comes to Arsenal pushing toward the top 4 and Champions League, or settling for another finish just outside the prized slots.
It may not feel like it, but Ceballos is technically considered a member of this summer’s transfer window after he returned to Spain briefly before returning to London. There were multiple rumors that other teams were strongly considering or actively pursuing Ceballos, but Ceballos seems to only have had eyes for Arsenal and Mikel’s project.
“After the season I spoke to Jose Angel Sanchez and I told him I’d spoken to Mikel about staying at Arsenal, they told me to wait for a month for the team come back and take a decision, but my idea was clear to return to my club where I’d ended well with the boss’s confidence.
“You look at what’s coming next summer, the Euros and Olympics, you need an important role in your team and after the lockdown I found the role I’d been looking for in recent years with Mikel.”
“I was totally happy, and I could develop my game in a totally natural way.”
Not only does this serve as a testament to the loyalty Ceballos has and the good experience he had in London, it’s yet another incredible feather in Mikel Arteta’s hat of player reviews. In the last 9 months, there have been a handful of players that have waivered on their desire to stay or go, that now are openly and full-heartedly trying to stay onboard Arteta’s project.
Yes, there are a few looking to maintain the wages Arsenal are obligated to pay them that other teams would be unwilling to match, but it tells you just how bought into Arteta’s methods and system many of these players are. Ceballos has never really felt that level of appreciation within first team football… certainly not under Zidane. So to hear him gush about his time at Arsenal, the experience and reward of buying into what Arteta was working on with him, and that it meant he could only see himself at one place — Arsenal — it’s enough to warm your heart and carry you through this weekend without Arsenal matches.
Leaving it there for the day. Enjoy the Saturday!