There’s been lots of talk about Arsenal’s new signings but let’s not forget the influence of one of Arteta’s much-criticised early ones. Thomas Partey was the epitome of efficiency against Norwich in what was an elite performance from a player capable of special things.
The role Arteta tasks Partey with is one few players in the world could carry out in a number of senses, but particularly in relation to building play. Arsenal build play with a single pivot which means that Partey is nearly entirely reliant on linking the attack and defence.
Sure, the likes of Xhaka help in this regard but Partey is the constant staple figure within that pivot. He is the linchpin & anchor in that Arsenal team – let me explain. When Arsenal build play, Partey has to control this entire zone. Most teams have 2 players in the pivot.
The only other elite level teams who play this way are Liverpool (Fabinho), Real Madrid (Casemiro), and Manchester City (Rodri). There is a clear reason why the aforementioned teams have special players in that role – because it requires a special player to do it. Partey is that.
Okay, Arteta’s elite structure enables the unit to build play in a variety of formats with the likes of Ødegaard and Xhaka dropping deep on occasion along with Tomiyasu (Ben White yesterday) inverting, but the primary responsibility lies on Partey. That is a massive show of faith.
Again, within those build-up situations, when Arsenal successfully find Partey in the 1st phase, he is one of the very best progressive passers in the game which enables his team to exploit the opposition in transitional situations which is every single attackers dream.
Partey plays simple but effective passes to his teammates between the lines or in more advanced positions when so many midfielders take the easy and safer opposition by recycling the ball which delays the potential for Arsenal, or any team, to exploit the opposition in transition.
Below, within a direct example of Partey’s high quality pass selection & execution in the build-up, Partey has the option to #1) play a safe pass back to the goalkeeper or #2) play a progressive pass to Ødegaard which can see Arsenal exploit Norwich in transition. He passes to Ø.
However, the build-up phase isn’t the only area in which Thomas Partey has significant levels of responsibility – he also has to circulate play when Arsenal are probing against a team sitting deep, & his tempered pass selections & constant availability in these moments is superb.
A second phase midfielders role when the team is sustaining an attack in the final third is to circulate play and play penetrative passes where possible. Partey enables Arsenal to sustain pressure in the final third thanks to his superb pass selection & quality in those moments.
So often deep-lying midfielders play hopeful balls into the box or try to create themselves when the team is much better off with the midfielders circulating play in an effort to keep the opposition pinned back before the team can create via combinations on the sides or in 1v1s.
Partey is one of the best circulators and passers in the sport against low blocks. He rarely forces play but regularly plays progressive passes to either flank or between the lines to enable the sustainment of attacks whilst getting the ball to attackers in dangerous positions.
Again, defensively, within these moments, Partey’s positional discipline is crucial to enable the block to remain compact in defensive transition i.e. so there is not a gaping hole in midfield. This is another component that is crucial to sustaining pressure & controlling games.
Partey virtually never ventures from his defensive midfield position which is exactly what Arteta’s system requires. He keeps the midfield compact and solves defensive problems before they become one as he is already present in midfield so doesn’t have to recover in these moments.
However, one criticism that can be attributed to Partey’s game is that his pass selection is often too aggressive when the game calls for control. So, for example, when there is a midfield duel from a long goal kick & ARS regain possession – Partey often tries to be progressive.
This is a positive trait as the opposition are exploitable in transitional situations within these moments but the balance of playing aggressive passes in these situations combined with recycling to force the opposition back before sustaining an attack is the ideal balance.
Partey is primarily progressive within his passing & this can often result in failed passes because these passes are higher risk than safer, recyclable passes. As such, turnovers can often occur. Subsequently, Arsenal lose the ball in midfield, & are often forced into a low block.
This results in the loss of control of the game because Arsenal don’t have a sensible combination of aggressive and patience within their attack. It can lead to regular transitions which sees Arsenal lose the ball in vulnerable positions or they fall back into a deep block.
However, this is certainly an area of Partey’s game that is improving. I think he is becoming more sensible with his pass selections & isn’t always trying to progress play. Sometimes, when he naturally has on off day, those high-risk passes won’t come off, and that’s problematic.
Those are the moments Partey needs to be sensible & revert to playing safer passes to help his team regain control as opposed to losing it due to constant giveaways. This level of mental inexperience is normal for him though because he has never played for a possession based team.
As such, when considering that Arteta is an elite manager & was a superb passing midfielder himself, it is a safe assumption to make that Thomas Partey will eventually master the role of a midfield player (even though he nearly already has) to become a consistently elite player.