Controlling Midfield: Who Should Partner Partey?

Who’s going to join the Partey?

I doubt many Arsenal supporters would argue with the suggestion that Thomas Partey is an automatic starter in our current first choice team.

But who should play alongside him?

This conundrum was brought home to me by the way we struggled to take control of the middle of the park for long periods against Leicester City.

This is not to criticise what was an excellent team performance with some of the most committed defending I have seen from an Arsenal team in a long time. Leicester, we do not need to be reminded, are a dangerous side and don’t get dominated by many teams.

But there were times when we rode our luck and when getting even an extra minute or two of possession in the central areas would have given us a breather and helped take the wind out of Leicester’s sails. It would also have meant a bit less nail chewing among the Arsenal faithful.

Lokonga started with Partey in that game and did very well. He’s an exciting prospect who may well emerge as the automatic Partey partner over the next season or two.

But what about our other options?

As I see it – and not counting promising up-and-comers like Azeez (who is on loan anyway) – they are as follows: Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Elneny and Odegaard.

Ode has been tried a couple of times in central midfield to mixed effect. He can pick a pass for sure, but does not seem suited to winning the midfield battles and is perhaps more effective further forward.

Xhaka – when fit – is still (I suspect) Arteta’s preferred option at the base of the midfield alongside Partey. His career with us has had more ups and downs than his native Alps, but let’s not forget that he played a big part in the 3-1 win over Totteringham in late September.

Lokonga, as I mentioned, may prove to be the natural partner in time (his combination of speed, athleticism and skill are very appealing) but he is relatively inexperienced for such a key role.

Elneny, who had a poor game against Leeds in the Carabao Cup, is now surely no more than a “break glass in case of emergency” type of player who will see little game time while others are fit. He has had decent outings for us in the past but has never really made it hard for the manager to drop him.

That leaves Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who – in contrast – was excellent against Leeds in the same game. I would like to see him given more opportunities alongside Partey. A run of games might help build his confidence and get him into a positive ‘rhythm of play.’ He has the athleticism and skill but needs to prove he can consistently apply discipline and intelligence to his game.

Outside of those five options we are looking at either promoting a young player into the first team or going into the market in January to add a new central midfielder, perhaps one with a defensive mindset. This would only be an option if one or both of Elneny and Xhaka were sold, I imagine.

For now it looks as though Arteta prefers Lokonga until Xhaka returns from injury. I would like to see AMN get more game time, but I’m not unhappy with either option. I hope the Odegaard in central mid experiment has run its course (although it’s possible El Patron thinks he can convert Ode into an all round central mid player in time).

Over to you.



50 Responses to Controlling Midfield: Who Should Partner Partey?

  1. RA says:

    Morning, Rocky,

    A sensible Post that has focussed, rightly, on the midfield.

    Oddly, I have views on who should be in the midfield role, and amazingly these views are somewhat different from your own, so I could be wrong before I start.

    I do not have much enthusiasm for Xhaka, or AMN – tho’ Arteta, as you said, would probably see Xhaka in a different light – despite being willing to sell him to Roma for weeks as the summer transfer window ambled along.

    Never rated AMN, and on his occasional appearances I see nothing to change my mind.

    Ode is a little difficult to quantify. In my opinion he is not now, or in the future, going to be a competent midfielder – just a back-up to Saka.

    I like Elneny, and thought he has played well enough whenever he has had the chance. He is never going to be a top midfielder but he is not hopeless either, as I see it.

    That seems to leave me up the creek without a paddle.

    But I have a suggestion that has been brewing in my mind for some time, and particularly so during the Leics game.

    [Mandatory Drum Roll ::::::] I think our newest CB, namely the lad White who is strong, hard tackling, and an excellent passer of the ball, aa well as a consummately skilful dribbler.

    If White was given the midfield role, it would release Holding to play at CB, a role he does very well.

    That means we should move on Xhaka, AMN, Ode, and Elneny a.s.a.p

    The midfield would be Partey, White and Lokonga.

    Use the money from the transfers to buy a new Centre Forward, as Mikel seems to have lost confidence in Martinelli, Balogun and Eddie.

  2. Pete the Thirst says:

    Anyone without an X in their name!

    MAinsley could do a job, but he needs to pull his finger out.

    Ode isn’t a deep midfielder.

    Lokonga it is by default.

  3. RockyLives says:

    A perfectly reasonable assessment.

    I have more optimism for AMN than you, but he has yet to convince on any kind consistent basis.

    As for White in MF – he certainly has the skillset that could see him prosper there but there is a “but” and it’s a very big “but” (no sniggering at the back).

    Namely, for all that Holding is a very decent CB, he is not in the same class as White for that role, and the latter is forming – with Gabriel – the most exciting CB partnership we’ve seen since Kozzer and the BFG.

    A great CB partnership is such a crucial cornerstone of success that I would be very loath to tamper with it.

    “Lokonga by default” is exactly where Arteta is at the moment, I suspect.

  4. RockyLives says:

    One option I omitted to mention is Calum Chambers.

    CC was the Fulham fans’ player of the season when he spent a season on loan there playing as a DM.

    The trouble is, Arteta clearly knows this and works with Chambers every day, and seems to have zero inclination to play him in midfield.

  5. RockyLives says:

    Nuno sacked.

    That’s a shame.

    The Spuds are keen on Conte apparently, but it’s rumoured that he’s holding out for the ManUre job when patience with Solskjaer finally runs out.

  6. LB says:

    The fact that the same question continues to be asked tells us what we all already know and that it is that it is simply unclear who is the best choice to partner Partey.
    I like the way Arteta is giving all the candidates an opportunity to stake his claim but when it comes to the big games there remains no better choice than the experience that Xhaka brings to the table and Arteta is well aware of this hence the continued selection when fit.

  7. RockyLives says:

    I suspect you’ve nailed it LB.

  8. Kyalo Mũsyĩmi says:

    I propose Declan Rice

  9. RockyLives says:

    Haha – good suggestion. Can’t see West Ham selling him at the moment…

  10. fred1266 says:

    Probably it should be ESR. The position next to partey that person should be able to cheap in with goals as well as help defensively which ESR does it the best current

    All the other names called offs nothing going forward

  11. RockyLives says:

    Fred – no! We need ESR further forward to assist and score goals. If he plays alongside Partey he’ll be pulled too deep because of the defensive duties that come with the role.

  12. RA says:


    I agree that messing around with the defence, including the GK would take a lot to justify the possible destruction of the current burgeoning defensive unit.

    However, using White in midfield actually reinforces the defence by making the midfield better than they currently are and Holding is an experienced and useful CB — quoting LB, having the experience to bolster the midfield which can also help the defence get better by improving the midfield and employing an experienced CB to replace Master White, would be bold and potentially would take both roles to a higher level makes sense, I think.

    [Fear not — it will never happen — Mikel is too cautious] 😜

  13. allezkev says:

    Good post, if everyone is available then I guess it goes to Zhaka although young Albert is coming along nicely and by the end of this season he may well be good enough to save Arsenal a transfer fee.

    The lad at Brighton, Bissouma would be my numero uno choice as a partner to Big Tom but I like the lad at Leeds. Declan Rice is a fantastic player who unfortunately has a fantastic price tag to go with him, so unlikely.

    Nobody in the Stiffs looks anywhere near good enough for the pivot job, we only seem to develop inside forwards these days…

  14. fred1266 says:

    But if odegard is in the cam position wouldn’t we get the best out of him

    I know you was only speaking about the next CDM position

    But the combo am watching is


    Pepe Odegard Saka

    ESR. Partey

    This way we get all of our best players on the pitch at same time bar lacazette

    So back to your main question I think a more attacking player next to partey is the best option one of the reasons I strongly wanted willock to stay

  15. fred1266 says:

    Partey partner should that person be a box to box or straight CDM

    As allezkev mention WHM dey have one of the best CDM combo in the league with rice mostly staying back and soucek more attacking

  16. LBG says:

    Agree with Pete first of all!😁
    Then Allezkev.STILL think Bissouma would be perfect ( bet even Fred has come round by now!) as Partey would then be released to play the dynamic forward contribution that I believe he has in him and which at present is hidden. Mustn’t let Liverpool jump in first, which my contacts say they are planning. Sell the X- rated player and Elneny, give A M-N the odd go with one of P and/ or B.

  17. LBG says:

    Cannot believe you list Pepe as ” one of our best players”.

  18. LBG says:

    The White suggestion will fit even better when Saliba returns.

  19. RA says:

    Afternoon, LBG,

    I hope Saliba agrees to return from loan – I hear he is far from convinced.

  20. fred1266 says:

    Think Liverpool after Tielemans so no need ro worry about them getting bissouma

    Who is our best CDM besides partey I would say elneny right play him next to partey and let partey play box to box LBG

  21. fred1266 says:

    Fair point LBG well lol

  22. LBG says:

    Tielemans is not a holding midfielder. We do not need more forward creativity IMO.
    Elneny is probably the most likely to leave at Christmas, with sourpuss Leno!
    If Saliba refuses to come back, we will ask a significant fee for him……and can then buy Bissouma or use White as you suggested with Rob Holding proving he has enough ability AND fight against aggressive forwards recently.

  23. LBG says:

    Be interesting if Emery gets the Newcastle job…. and Conte makes Totteringham into a boring (? successful ) defensive team.

  24. LB says:

    It would probably be funnier if Conte got the Newcastle job and Emery got the spuds job.

  25. Las says:

    The zillion ponds question, spot-on Rocky. 🙂
    I would prefer a determined AMN as he played in the FA Cup final his best game by far. He really fought for the team and was reliable not losing possessions not making stupid mistakes. Unfortunately, it was not enough to earn a regular first-team place so less so that he went for a loan to WBA. I don’t think White is the solution my two cents is for Bissuoma, he is good.
    Holy mother… 🙂 Emery for whatever team?!? I don’t think he wants to come back to the UK. He caught a cold last time. Conte wants to get the biggest fish in the lake. If the Saudi post is available he will go for it and won’t give a damn for the Tottheringem.

  26. allezkev says:

    I know that there’s been a lot of ‘chat’ about Saliba even if I’ve no idea where it originates from, does it come from Saliba’s people or is it the usual click bait sites looking for hits? All I do know is that when Arsenal send a player out on loan I want him to play and I want him to play well because then when he returns he can either push for a 1st team place or if we plan to move them on his value will have increased. So I really don’t get the handwringing over William, personally I think he’ll be back next summer being integrated into our squad.

  27. allezkev says:

    By handwringing I don’t mean on here, it’s just a general view I pick up from other sites I visit.

  28. RA says:

    Hi Kev,

    This is a secret — no one but us two can know this secret — so I have sprinkled magic on AA so no one else on the site can read this.

    RC, who writes blogs frequently for AA, as does Rocky, is a supporter of PSG as well as being a Gooner.

    We rely on him to tell us how our loanees in La Belle France (except Macaroni) are doing, and I trust that he is more accurate in his assessment than any click-bait rubbish that circles around.

    When he is back on AA, perhaps RC will give us an update on Saliba (who I have not seen play a full game, but he seems to be well regarded.

  29. LBG says:

    Recommend as an online site that offers, IMO, more accurate info on all things Arsenal than many other sites and certainly the newspapers.
    Currently praising Saliba for signing up for extra English lessons to prepare for his return to The Arsenal. He received rave reviews from this site for his recent performance against PSG, and noted was a last ditch goal saving tackle on that very average player Kylian Mbappe. Saliba has played, as stipulated by Allezkev, more minutes on the pitch this season than any other Marseille player.
    Another recent comment that I find particularly interesting is that Saliba may have been thinking of being loaned out to…….Newcastle, before he settled on Marseille and France again. Now wouldn’t that have been fun if we had had a bid of £100m at the end of the season, as the Geordies didnt want him to go!!😁

  30. jjgsol says:

    Sorry to be a killjoy, but what has Partey done in his in excess of a year with us that has given any indication that he is the shoo-in midfielder?

    He has hardly set the world alight with his performances.

    As we set in for the winter are we going to go back to this boring and unjustified assumption that proved over the last year to have no basis in reality.

    Yes, he has now scored a goal, yes, off his shoulder.

    I can’t wait for the “Arteta is one of the best young coaches” to come out for another airing.

    By the way, I think that you will find that although Xhaka plays for Switzerland, you know that country with the Alps, he actually comes from Albania, which explains why, in the last World Cup, in the game between that country and Albania, he played for the former and his brother for the latter,

    Actually, it seems that there is a mountain range in Albania called the Accursed Mountains, otherwise known as the Albanian Alps, part of what is known as the Donaric Alps (Thanks Google).

    Is that what you meant?

    Having come here for the first time in weeks, I had to comment.

    As whatever I have to say is so unpopular on this site, I will go away again and leave you in peace and let you all believe what you want.

  31. LBG says:

    Amen to that!

  32. Aaron says:

    Thanks for the intriguing posts Rocky.

    The answer always is Xhaka in Arteta’s eyes. Prove me wrong Mikel…

    AFC on a roll, close to 5th, but could be 10th easily, as even with this win streak, open play goals are scare and Arteta’s propensity to turtle after going up a goal is going to cost the team in the long run.

    The true reflection of the coaching this year will be when players leave for AFCON and an injury to Saka or ESR occurs- heaven forbid!

    As it stands incremental progress in being made and the W’s are piling up!

  33. LBG says:

    Happy 58th to Ian Wrightx3.
    Given the recent conversations about Saliba, it is videos of that legends competitive passion for Arsenal that should be sent to William, with his English lessons, to help him understand the Club he is returning to in 22.
    Farewell to all Accursed posters.

  34. LBG says:

    Morning again, Rocky
    Taking your post on a little further into the future, the African Nations Cup will see us lose a number of players in January. I think Elneny may have gone to another Club anyway, and I no longer believe regrettably in Pepe as a future star. But Thomas and Aubang will be missed. Should we start planning for their absence now?
    Given his lack of game time on loan, I would like to see Azeez recalled and given playing time from the bench to break him in for next season. But would a short term loan of a long term favourite of many on this site, bolster the drive and commitment in midfield. Stand up Aaron Ramsey, who surely would be driven to re- prove himself if he came back, and would be useful experience alongside younger and still raw midfield colleagues.(To be clear, would still wish for long term investment in Bissouma, but, for the short term!)
    And what about up front to score us consistently, goals? If Eddie decides to leave, and at the moment we dont seem to have a slot for Balogun, (who I believe will come good but might benefit from a loan), invest a chunk on Dominic Calvert- Lewin. A player with heart and aggression, good in the air, and currently with a disorganised Everton team going backwards.

  35. allezkev says:

    Hi Red, thanks for the info on Monsieur RC, I’m intrigued by the magic you have sprinkled?

  36. LBG says:

    Interested in Emery’s managerial record
    Games W D L Win%
    Sevilla 205 106 43 56 51.7
    PSG 114 87 15 12 76.3
    Arsenal 78 43 16 19 55.1
    Villarreal 74 35 24 15 47.1

    Apart from PSG, where he had very little to beat, his Arsenal win record is better than his with Sevilla or Villarreal. He has of course won the UEFA/Europa Cups four times more than any other manager. He also has the highest win percentage, at 76.3, of all PSG managers.

  37. LBG says:

    Sorry, couldnt line up the columns. ( Close one eye to read🤣)

  38. LBG says:

    We have three centre backs knocking the ball out of the ground “away from home” at the present. Saliba, Mavrapanos and Ballard. Thankfully two out of three are still our players. Disappointed that a Greek centre back was loaned out WITH an option to buy for a pittance. Did he lose out when his Greek colleague was still being selected as if he was any good? Those of us who watched him for his few games in the first team think you may have made a significant mistake, Arsenal.

  39. Pete the Thirst says:

    @LBG I read somewhere that Mavropanos picked up another injury.

    His achilles heel. A Greek tragedy.

  40. LBG says:

    Well Pete, at least YOU are alive, even if your jokes push the boundaries of amusement towards German quality humour!😉
    Happy Friday and weekend ahead, sir. COYG.

  41. Pete the Thirst says:

    @LBG your name will be first on my list…

    Merry Friday one and all

  42. LBG says:

    ” I wont tell him, Pike…”

  43. RA says:

    Fred, that a an interesting schedule.

    I think LBG said he knew George Morrell very well indeed! 😜

    Where are my favourite Post writers?

  44. LBG says:

    Next door neighbour, RA!

  45. Aaron says:

    A good picture, but put one up with him in EPL games only, and I bet the view is different.

    He is moving the team to a better place and a W on Sunday would continue defining this squads short term belief!

  46. allezkev says:

    Look at Bertie Mee in that list and just think and then thank heavens we didn’t have social media back in the late 1960’s otherwise the doomers might have driven him and Don Howe out of their jobs especially after we’d lost to Leeds and in particular Swindon, because then we wouldn’t have had that memorable evening at Highbury in 1970 when we won our first european trophy or twelve months later when Arsenal famously won the Double.

  47. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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