Will the Real Thomas Partey Please Stand Up?

What do we do with Thomas?

Are you confused? I know I am.

I mean, what exactly is Thomas Partey? What is his best position? In what role will he be most effective for Arsenal?

The Ghanaian arrived in N5 with a lot of hype after excelling at Atletico Madrid over multiple seasons.

His first campaign at Arsenal was blighted by injury, but he showed glimpses of real quality as well as some worrying lapses in concentration and occasional sloppiness on the ball.

My instinct is that his upside is very high and that in the right formation he could be a game-changing figure for us, but what is that formation? And what is his role in it?

Some see him as a defensive midfielder. The most legendary occupant of that role in recent Arsenal history, Gilberto, even gave Partey his own vote of confidence earlier in the season.

But he has not often been used in the same way as Gilberto was (the anchor of midfield, seldom committing to going forward and always ready to snuff out opposition moves). Partey has usually had either Xhaka or Elneny playing in a slightly deeper role behind him.

Only when Partey has been teamed up with Ceballos in central midfield has he been obliged to be the ‘rear guard’, with Ceballos usually drifting out to a sort-of left midfield position.

In those games Partey was often caught on the ball by opponents and lost possession or was pressured into making misplaced passes, but it wasn’t entirely his fault: the lack of a proper central mid partner often meant he was being swarmed by opposition players.

Those who don’t see him as an out-and-out DM tend to see him instead as a Vieira type player – someone with power and pace who is able to do the destructive work of winning the ball in the middle of the park, but can also drive forward to launch attacks.

When considering this it is worth remembering that Vieira generally had Gilberto behind him.

Partey certainly has the physical and footballing attributes to fulfil that combination role (destroyer/creator) although compared with another recent box-to-box star, Aaron Ramsey, his strengths are more on the ‘destroyer’ end than the ‘creator’ or goalscorer end, but there’s more than one kind of box-to-box player.

So… should Mikel Arteta be looking for a new Gilberto to allow Partey to be the new Vieira? Or should he be looking for a more creative (but also combative) midfield partner so that Partey can be the new Gilberto himself?

If it’s the former (Partey as the new Vieira) then it has ramifications for the choice of midfield partner and would, for example, rule out Joe Willock, since Willock is definitely not a DM.

Perhaps that’s where talk of a Bissouma type signing comes in: he could be the Gilberto to Partey’s Vieira.

If, on the other hand, Arteta decides to make Partey the primary protector of the back four, then you could see a partnership with Willock – or with a new signing like Buendia – working well.

Given that, as I mentioned, Gilberto has given his stamp of approval to Partey in the DM holding role, that may not be such a bad option.

There is a third option I have seen mentioned, in which the DM role itself is seen as anachronistic and in which, instead, we opt for a pair of powerful and mobile central midfielders who share the responsibility for shielding the defence but also for getting forward when we’re in possession. This worries me somewhat but would open the door for a Partey-Willock combo.

What do you think?

(By the way, when talking about “the new Vieira” or “the new Gilberto” I am not trying to say the current players are on a par with those Invincibles, I am just referring to the type of roles: so please don’t bash me over the head with “not fit to lace Vieira’s boots” type comments).



25 Responses to Will the Real Thomas Partey Please Stand Up?

  1. Ben says:

    Interesting question and hard to predict the answer given there’s no certainty over how Arteta will opt to play next season.

    My guess is that he hasn’t abandoned his desire to play 433 because like his mentor, Pep, he sees this at the most effective formation for the Prem. It also allows Arteta to more clearly define the midfielders’ roles than in a 4231, something which would likely benefit Partey given the ambiguity that exists currently in what he should be doing in game.

    However, it will depend on whether he can recycle his squad to get the right balance of technical capabilities in order to play a 433.

    Assuming it’s a 433, Partey will likely end up having two roles in the squad, not just one.

    The first is as an RCM that bursts forward when the inverted RB tucks in and which sits in when the RB overlaps. In this scenario, it’s likely that a DCM will also be playing in the team (my guess is Arsenal will sign a player who is not eligible for ACN this January to fulfil this role, ruling out Bissouma).

    The second is as the DCM himself. In this scenario, you might find Willock, ESR, AMN, Azeez or even an incoming Odegaard/Buendia type fulfilling the RCM role.

  2. LBG says:

    Thanks Rocky
    Interesting Ben. I still think there is more to Thomas going forward ( Vieira lite) and we would see this with a true holding central midfielder. I nailed my colours to Bissouma some time ago, and hope we can pin him down.
    Well done Saka as a fine debut goal. Now take a rest!

  3. RC78 says:

    To be fait, he can play both DM and CM.

    I think he could be our Ngolo Kante (a pressing CM, that gets the ball back, break plays and can pass it decently) but he needs a Jorginho next to him…Xhaka was the closest we had but we know Xhaka’s strengths and weaknesses. So if you ask me, we have two options:

    1. Make him our DM and basically, we look for a CM but a CM that can press, pass and get the ball back
    2. Make him our CM and basically, we look for a DM like Jorginho, Fernandiho…

    I just want to point out that at Atletico, he was often par of a 433 set-up or a 4411 with basically inverted playmakers on his side (Saul and Koke) so defensively, he did have some support. His best season was when he played as a deep-lying central midfielder. I think this is where he would also be best for us but he needs to be fitter and braver, his passing is very precise and he has a good shot but we hardly saw that this year mainly because he was preoccupied with defensive duties…so if we are to build our team around our best players, we need to play them in our best positions:

  4. LBG says:

    Question : – if ,as you say ( and I agree) he is a good passer, with a good shot, why would you want to restrict him to a deep lying central midfielder?

  5. fred1266 says:

    Wait arsenal inquiring about onana who can’t play until February cause he has failed a drug test and is banned

  6. RockyLives says:

    Thanks for some good comments.

    Ben – very thoughtful. And I agree that getting an African central midfielder would be a high risk strategy this summer. In fact, we should have a Post soon about the likely impact of the African Nations Cup on our prospects. Theoretically we could lose Pepe, Auba, Partey and Elneny assuming they’re all still with us next season. If we keep Elneny, sell Xhaka and sign Bissouma, our MF could look very thin during the the Africa tournament.

    RC – I think on balance I would prefer we used Partey as our Kante (or Vieira) with a Jorginho (Gilberto) alongside him.

    LBG – if Thomas has a good shot we didn’t see much evidence of it last season (unless you meant a good shot for Harlequins 1st Fifteen). And his goalscoring record at Atletico (12 goals in 132 games – or a goal every 11 matches) means we can’t really expect him to contribute much in that way for the Arsenal. If he scores for us at the same rate, he would deliver 3.5 goals per season in the EPL.

  7. LBG says:

    It wasnt me who said he had a good shot! Check RCs comment. I bow to the French sage.

  8. RockyLives says:

    Fair point LBG 😀

    RC – Thomas doesn’t have a great shot!

  9. fred1266 says:

    I think he has a great shoot saw him score some screamer at atlethico but he not consistent

  10. RC78 says:

    Sorry for the confusion creation. I do not want him to be playing as DM but more as a CM in the mould of what Kante has become. So press, get the ball back, break play, drive or pass the ball forward.

    The intent of the deep-lying term was more to differentiate him from a play maker / 10 / attacking midfielder.

  11. fred1266 says:

    I haven’t been following the conversation much today but kante is not a CM to me a cm are the likes of modric kroos pogba Ramsey etc

  12. LBG says:

    Well team. Just called up Partey montages again of time at At. Not much evidence of those thunderbolt Fred, but his DRIBBLING, PASSING AND TACKLING. WOW!.
    Wonder, as someone, probably the Frenchman, said whether he is as fit as he could be. Definitely there is a Vieira in him.

  13. allezkev says:

    Terrible news regarding Alan Miller whose past away aged just 51, he was our reserve goalkeeper in the 1990’s. RIP

  14. fred1266 says:

    Damn so sad and so young

    Rip Miller

    What love to hear so stories about him

  15. LBG says:

    Lord Bentner retires at 33years old. Cant believe that wasnt the case when he played for us!

  16. LBG says:

    Happy Birthday, Poldi!
    A hot shot or what!

  17. RockyLives says:


    Great character.

    Should have got more game time under AW than he actually did, in my humble.

  18. LBG says:

    Interesting analysis of how the Norwich playmaker could revitalise Aubang if we can grab him, on Football London site.

  19. RockyLives says:

    Poor old Totts weren’t able to lure Conte as their new head coach.

    Apparently he had reservations about their level of ambition 😀

  20. fred1266 says:

    Just to show u how fickle or fans are everyone was once conte goes day are the best team in London like how mouriinho is a better coach than conte and he couldn’t do it why all of a sudden day feel conte is the best sigh

    Is like dey don’t watch football besides son kane and regulon there other players not that great

  21. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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