Thomas Partey – Arsenal’s One Man Midfield

I watched a lot of Thomas Partey when he was at Atletico Madrid.

He always came across as a Patrick Vieira type midfielder.

Whilst he could be classed as a defensive midfielder, he was much more than that. He was at his best when he was free to let his presence be known across the pitch, using his power and fitness to press and win the ball.

To do so he needed a static midfielder in behind him. Someone who was defensively disciplined and would remain in place when Partey went hunting for the ball.

It is for that reason I did not see Partey as a replacement for Granit Xhaka but a partner.

In my mind it was simple.

Partey would press high up the pitch whilst Xhaka sat. He would drive forward with the ball at his feet whilst Xhaka dictated play from deeper with his passing.

It would be reminiscent to the Petit / Vieira days.

Jorginho and N’Golo Kante is perhaps a more modern example at Chelsea.

Against Burnley, Partey played as the deepest midfielder – with Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard further forward. And it was a tactic that worked very well.

Many often question why Arsenal (and others) play 2 defensive minded players against lesser sides.

Chelsea almost always play with Jorginho and Kante. As do Manchester United (usually 2 of Fred, Matic and McTominay). Liverpool often played with 3 in their title winning season (Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum).

Likewise Man City look their most balanced when both Ilkay Gundogan and Ferdandinho play together.

Mikel Arteta took the risk and played with just Partey which allowed him to get more creativity on the pitch.

When Burnley were on the ball, Partey would drop into the back 4 creating 3 centre backs.

This a tactic allowed Ben White and Gabriel to man mark Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes. Partey then became the arial attacker when the ball went high.

Capable of dropping into the defence and attacking the high ball. It worked brilliant.

Partey showed in the game that he can perform as the deepest of the midfielders. That he had the positional discipline not to leave the defence exposed.

The only thing to raise is it was Burnley.

Arteta was able to do this due to Burnley playing a traditional 442.

They had no attacking midfielder occupying the space between Arsenal’s defence and midfield; and their own two midfielders were pre occupied with Odegaard and Smith Rowe.

This almost always left Partey as a free man.

Against sides that play with an attacking midfielder, or a striker that drops deeper, Arsenal might find themselves quickly over run in midfield.

Against someone like Chelsea, Partey wild be occupied with Kai Havertz. That would then always leave Mason Mount free.

Liverpool would drop Firmino deeper which would then free up Thiago to dictate the midfield.

Even lesser teams like Leicester City would stick James Maddison on Partey freeing up Youri Tielemans.

It is a tactic that worked against Burnley because of the way Burnley set up.

But what Partey showed is that he can play as the deeper of the midfielders. And what that means moving forward is that Arteta can play one of Albert-Sambi Lokonga or Ainsley Maitland-Niles alongside him; rather than Granit Xhaka.

I am not naive enough to say things like “Partey has just ended Xhaka’s career” but it is now quiet clearly “Partey + 1 depending on the opponent” rather than “Partey & Xhaka”.

Now we just need to hope Partey stays fit.

Keenos

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