Yesterday was a bit of a slow news day, although today promises to carry a bit of drama seeing as Arsenal are required to submit their Premier League roster registration, which means it is the final hours of the “will they, won’t they” news cycle surrounding Mesut Ozil. Rumors suggest that Arsenal won’t be registering him, something that is a shock in the grand scheme of who Ozil is to the game of football, but likely not a surprise given his more recent history with the club. He has not gotten minutes in a match since before the pandemic-driven lockdown, but was selected for the squad shortly after the break, before being dropped for the remainder of the season.
If he doesn’t make the squad, it will carry a tone of finality and a reminder that, in the end, clubs and teams will always have the final say in a power struggle of sorts. It will put to rest any future questioning of why Ozil wasn’t selected for specific matches — although those questions will be asked from an overarching view should Arsenal struggle this year. If he is registered, it will raise a few eyebrows and cause a few head scratches at the mixed signals from the club who have seemingly made it clear he plays no role in the future of Arsenal, and has not for a while. We will see.
In other news, Rob Holding’s tight hamstring that many hoped was simply precautionary has come back as something a bit more severe. Holding will be out for 3-4 weeks, which could see him miss Arsenal’s next 5 or 6 matches.
So, while we wait for confirmation on Holding and the official registration from the club, I thought we could have a bit of fun with this morning’s blog by going through Partey’s first 10 minutes for Arsenal and analyzing a bit of it to make some wild assumptions!
No, I will try to limit the wild assumptions, but there are a few things worth noting, simply to keep an eye on to see if it carries through. Also, it’s just fun to talk about brand new players.
In Sunday’s match against Manchester City, Thomas Partey made his Arsenal debut when he came off the bench in the 83rd minute for Granit Xhaka. Yes, it was only 10 minutes of play and Partey has only had a few sessions with the team, but it is worth noting that he got put into a 1-0 match in the final minutes to try and change things. It’s not as though he came on with 4 minutes left in a 3-0 drubbing where it’s all a bit ceremonial. Here’s a deep dive into his time.
Throughout Partey’s time in the game, he seemed to fluidly flip back and forth from left to right and up and down, keeping an eye on Ceballos and balancing the formation with him. While he came into the game for Granit Xhaka and began on the left side, he quickly flipped over the right and spent a few minute there.
As you can see in the image above, the two staying on a pretty even plane in the center, but Ceballos is occupying that left side where the ball is. Not to read too much into this because Ceballos and Xhaka will also pick and choose their moments to switch sides in the midfield, or have one stay home while the other goes, it does show a level of flexibility between these two to recognize where the other is at, exchange, and keep a balance.
Later in his stint, we see him back on the left with Ceballos a little deeper. It was certainly a balancing act and some of that may have been Partey being sent in to make plays, knowing he isn’t as familiar with positioning, leaving Ceballos to recognize and adjust.
Both players having the ability to play with both feet from either side of the central pivot will allow Arteta to pick and choose his midfield knowing he has a good amount of versatility.
A little bit of attack, a little bit of drop and cover
Everyone wants to know what Partey’s main role will be within the side. Will it be to get up with the attack and drive Arsenal forward, or will be to sit in at the base of a midfield three and hold down the fort, shielding the backline?
It’s likely a bit of both, but the answer wasn’t obvious. That could be expected given the fact that when Partey came into the match late, the system had changed and Arsenal weren’t really playing a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with a clear midfielder in front of the pivot which left Paartey and Ceballos to do a bit of both.
Here we have a case of Luiz picking up the ball and surging forward from the back, Partey is playing the right midfielder, Ceballos on the left. As Luiz gets forward to eventually serve a ball into the box to try and pick out Aubameyang, we saw Partey drop and cover.
That same incident and cross from a different angle. We can clearly see Partey dropping in to protect the backline, as well as, making himself available to Luiz should he need an option. Dani is visible on the left side, slightly higher than Partey.
While it seemed as though Ceballos was doing a bit more of the adventuring forward, we did get to see a trait of Partey’s that many are very excited for — his attacking with progressive ball carrying.
As the ball swings from Tierney to Partey after a cleared freekick, Partey takes it in stride, with Bernardo bearing down on him, and surges past him to drive at the backline. A very nice first touch, a lovely bit of acceleration into the space, and the defender is beat without a challenge.
After beating Bernardo, Partey draws out three defenders and slips a ball through to Saka down the left hand channel. That simple act of beating the midfield defender, carrying the ball 30 yards, and forcing defenders to step out of their line and close him down is something Arsenal’s midfield has really lacked.
In fact, the one person that has offered glimpses of it this season is Hector Bellerin on the right. Saka’s cross didn’t come of anything, but having that skill in the midfield will be a very nice change of pace for The Gunners.
Defensive workrate and mobility
If there is one thing Partey innately brings to the pitch each and every time he stepped onto it for Madrid, it was workrate and mobility. We talked above about him dropping to cover Luiz when we have the ball, but what about when we don’t?
One of the very first things you see Partey do for Arsenal is demonstrate his pace and workrate. Here we have Arsenal’s press beaten by the pass, and away Foden goes with Sterling to his left. Gabriel is dropping, Bellerin is dropping, Ceballos is tracking back, but it’s Partey that motors through and makes a challenge.
Granted it was a foul that was waived on for advantage, but he’s covered the ground better than anyone else and put something in on Foden in a relatively safe area. All set pieces feel a little dangerous after Arsenal’s record last year, but Partey has caught up 40 yards out, not right on top of the box. A good bit of hustle play from the midfielder to get back.
Riding the challenge
One thing Arsenal struggled with against City, and Liverpool for that matter, was keeping their composure under pressure from the opposition’s press, showing strength and tidy technical skills, and getting themselves out of trouble. It’s part of the reason I actually felt Partey would have been a very good fit for this match since he offers just that to a midfield. While I understand starting him would have been a huge ask to expect of any player, we got to see a bit of that tidy, strong play in the back late.
In the image above, the ball has come from the far side on a throw in. Tierney has given it to Ceballos who one-touches it back. Tierney drops it to Gabriel, in the upper left of the image, who has enough trust to play the ball into Partey’s feet and let him get Arsenal out of trouble. A simple turn and touch from Partey to put himself between the defender and the ball, Thomas rides the challenge wonderfully before moving it along to Bellerin on the right.
In this scenario, Ceballos was on the left and a little higher than Partey who was playing the right side and sitting a little deeper for protection. It’s one example of the fact that his presence within the midfield could both increase the calm demeanor, as well as, raise the quality when it comes to beating the press and avoiding turnovers in bad areas.
Things to work on
Again, take these with a grain of salt. We are talking about about 10 minutes of play in a system he is just learning with players he hardly knows. It’s because of that, that I didn’t go too deep into analyzing his positioning or creating beyond observing him playing just about everywhere as a part of that pivot. However, there were two aspects worth noting that don’t require chemistry.
Free kick: In the 91st minute, Gabriel won a foul inside Manchester City’s half and, interestingly, Partey stepped up to take it. Personally, I would prefer he get in the box given his size, strength, and skill on the ball, while Ceballos provides service, but here we are.
It’s the type of free kick you want driven toward the penalty spot or the backside with a little bit of bend to get the momentum going toward goal for your attackers to run onto and meet.
Instead, we see Partey get under the ball and really float it toward the penalty spot. Without any sort of pace on the ball, Kyle Walker is untested, hardly needs to move, and clears the danger pretty easily. Not the best freekick. Unsure if Partey will be on freekick duties in the future, but if so, a bit more whip or drive on them if he wants to beat defenders or cause problems.
Silly yellow card: It’s a criticism that proceeds his time at Arsenal. Partey is not a stranger when it comes to discipline. Receiving 16 yellow cards in La Liga pretty much tells the whole story, but picking one up in the 93rd minute won’t have been in the plans.
It was a pretty unnecessary grab as well. Man City’s attacker cuts inside him and in front of Tierney, and instead of recognizing that Gabriel is there and so is Ceballos, Partey rips him down.
I don’t have a problem with a tactical foul. In fact, I think there are very opportune times to commit them, and Arsenal may want to be doing it more. However, seeing as you are suspended for a game after 5 and Partey had 16 last year, it’s hard to love the idea of him missing 3 games due to yellow cards. It’s this factor that makes the late foul even more difficult to take.
Couple that with the fact that Arsenal have struggled against set pieces and you hope we don’t see too many rash fouls in dangerous areas. It’s an aspect that Granit Xhaka has worked very hard to remove from his game, so hopefully coaches can remove that from Partey’s without reducing the work he does on the defensive end.
All in all, it was fun to see him in the Arsenal kit. Obviously the result wasn’t what anyone was looking for and there were aspects of the performance that need a lot of scrutiny, but I hope this is the start of some who can become a pillar of the Arsenal rebuild!
Partey ended the game with:
- 8 Passes
- 1/1 Long balls
- 1 Duel won
- 1/1 on tackles
- 1 Interception
- 2 Recoveries.