A commanding presence in Thomas Partey is what Arsenal need in the midfield. But can he take them to the next level?
Thomas Partey’s deadline day move to North London last summer was the best piece of business done by Arsenal in many years. After joining from Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, Partey hardly took time to settle into Mikel Arteta’s set-up. He quickly ticked all the boxes required for an Arsenal anchorman – physicality, defensive discipline, good ball movement, incredible work rate and an engine in the middle of the park.
The last time Gunners had a midfielder with similar qualities was the French legend Patrick Vieira. It took no time for optimistic fans and former players to compare Partey with Vieira. Those comparisons might add unnecessary pressure on the Ghanaian, who has not even completed a single season in North London. But the early signs are promising as the Gunners finally have a player to boss the midfield.
The tough-tackling central midfielder has been predominantly used in one of two positions. He can be the sole defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 system, sitting in front of the back four shielding them against opposition counter attacks.
Partey is equally comfortable in occupying one of the two pivot positions in a 4-2-3-1 system. He can complement Xhaka better in that role. While the Swiss midfielder lacks mobility or defensive discipline, the Ghanaian can provide him with the cover.
A good dribbler of the ball, Partey can also sit alongside Xhaka in a 3-4-3 formation – a system occasionally used by Arteta to improve their defensive shape. With Partey providing the cover, Xhaka can focus on being the box-to-box midfielder.
His contributions were evident under Diego Simeone as Partey was a mainstay in the Starting XI. The Ghanaian had an eye for danger for he could make crucial interceptions and was a good tackler of the ball. He helped Atletico Madrid remain tight at the back.
Notably, Partey is one of the few players who can do the job as a destroyer and a conductor. Labeling him a defensive midfielder would be an understatement. He is tidy in possession, can pick a pass and possesses an incredible engine.
His passing prowess was on display against Newcastle. As Arsenal struggled to open up the Magpies’ defence, a long, defence-splitting pass from Partey started a counterattack, resulting in Aubameyang’s goal.
Partey might be the closest to replicate Patrick Vieira since he left for Juventus in 2005. However, it will be unfair to compare the 27-year-old with the former World Cup winner.
Vieira’s impact for the Gunners was humongous. The all-action midfielder typified the rise of Arsenal under Arsene Wenger and helped turn them into a European heavyweight.
Vieira was also able to rely on the support of his world class teammates during his prime at Arsenal, a luxury Partey seldom has currently. The current Arsenal team is still finding its feet and is way behind the star-studded line-up they used to have in early 2000s.
In all likelihood,Thomas Partey may never be able to live up to the comparisons of Patrick Vieira, yet he can still deliver the job he was signed to do from Atletico Madrid.