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).