Thomas Partey’s Ideal Midfield Partner by AI
The rumours have become a solid pileup. The links are growing closer to home: Thomas Partey might possibly be coming to Arsenal. In the fantastic scenario that Arsenal will line up with the Ghanaian midfielder next season, who might be choosen by Mikel Arteta as his ideal midfield partner?
Considering that Mikel Arteta might very well switch to a 4-3-3 next season and is a very fluid coach so far, no options are out of the question. Let’s start with the most obvious one.
The Swiss midfielder had quite a rough start to the season. But since Mikel Arteta came in, he has hit something of a purple patch. Everyone knows what Granit Xhaka is about by now. Setting the tempo. Distributing the ball. Switching play. Covering for the defence. He has basically been the heart of the Arsenal midfield for three seasons now.
One of the weird things about Granit Xhaka is how people identify him as a defensive midfielder. Probably due to a strong desire for an athletic tackler in the middle from Arsenal fans plus confusion about his deep midfield role, he has been fashioned by many as Arsenal’s DM which he is not.
Xhaka is a deep-lying central midfielder. His main job is to organize play and set up the tempo for the team. Everything Arsenal do on the ball is supposed to run through him. Jorginho, Rodri, Ruben Neves, Toni Kroos, Thiago Alcantara are examples. None of them have all the defensive responsibility when they lose the ball. They share it with other midfielders.
Thomas Partey is more defensively responsible than Xhaka while being more mobile and more technical in possession. Where Xhaka lacks bite, Partey possesses it in abundance. Partey, being an able passer of the ball himself, could very well complement the Swiss controller. Think of the Torreira-Xhaka pivot but better.
The Uruguayan is unquestionably talented. Energetic scrapper, tidy passer, and able to penetrate into the penalty box with late runs, Lucas Torreira could function as a box-to-box midfielder or a full defensive one.
The problem with him being a box-to-box midfielder is that the Arsenal midfield is not quite set up to maximize the functionality. They would need Torreira to slightly better his offensive game in order to play a DM and an AM alongside him or they will have to buy an attacking box-to-box midfielder like Abdoulayi Duocore or Federico Valverde to complete the midfield with a DM like Partey.
The problem with the 23-year-old being a defensive midfielder is that he lacks physical presence. Despite being tenacious and quite gifted at winning the ball, Lucas Torreira won’t win you many headers, neither will he consistently overpower an opponent attacking midfielder through sheer physicality. One would suspect that a coach like Arteta who has trained under Guardiola — partly famed for his tall defensive anchors a la Sergio Busquets — would really prefer someone who can win headers and check an opponent’s run without having to put a foot in.
Pairing Thomas Partey with Torreira seems a bit redundant, as both would, in combination, not give Arsenal a technical advantage when it comes to passing.
Like Granit Xhaka, people are confused about Ceballos’ true position. Is he an advanced playmaker or better suited as a central midfielder. Here are a few things the Spaniard can do really well: dribbling, passing, winning fouls in possession. Sounds like David Silva or Thiago Alcantara?
Arteta thinks it’s the latter. And he has been largely vindicated by Ceballos’ performances in a deeper midfield position. Turns out that the fragile looking Spaniard can put in a strong tackle in the 89th minute.
Imagine a Partey and Ceballos midfield. Partey would be tasked with more defensive responsibilities. While Ceballos will become the heartbeat of the midfield, all silky dribbling and no-look vertical passing, like a certain Santi Cazorla.
One remarkable thing Ceballos can also do is his progressing the ball by dribbling up from the deeper areas of the pitch. That is what could make him potentially elite, potentially closer to a Xavi or Thiago than, say, Jorginho who lacks that ball-carrying skill. Throw in his ability to significantly provide assists and goals and you are relieving the creative burden off someone like Mesut Ozil as well.
This is why Ceballos is so desirable. His potential to become something like our dear Santi.
A pairing of him, Partey and an attacking midfielder would be perfect. CM-DM-AM. His qualities make him the best partner to someone like Thomas Partey or maybe a Granit Xhaka.
Our lanky French prodigy is also suffering from a positional crisis. Where is Guendouzi’s best position?
Definitely not as an attacking midfielder. As a defensive midfielder, he will have to develop his positioning to a much better level. If he can do that, then he may be potentially world-class, with his extraordinary passing and ability to dictate play. He would also have to improve his heading before that can happen as well.
What about as a CM? He has the passing, the energy, the astuteness. What lets him down here, also, is his positioning. Otherwise, on his day, as we have already seen several times this season and the last, the talented youngster can single-handedly own the entire midfield.
A partnership between him and Partey might actually benefit the Frenchman. Partey would mop up his positioning mistakes and allow him to run the game. Partey’s quiet composure and Guendouzi’s cocky brashness could also be the perfect midfield alloy.
This is still all conjecture yet. No one knows if Thomas Partey is coming. Even if he did it probably means a midfielder already here will be sold. Nobody knows for sure right now and maybe not even the player himself. The Partey-Ceballos midfield partnership is ideal from a tactical perspective. It would make for steel and style. In such an arrangement, Guendouzi could deputize for Ceballos and Torreira for Partey. Otherwise the Xhaka-Partey pivot would be great, containing enough experience to never get overwhelmed.
If we want to go on developing Guendouzi until he reaches the plateau of his potential, Partey-Guendouzi is the way to go. Everything ultimately depends on what happens in the transfer window. Ceballos could yet be an Arsenal player or not. Thomas Partey may sign a new contract at Atletico Madrid. Mikel Arteta may be envisioning other plans for the midfield that we, the fans, may not see just yet. Whatever case it is, we will need new midfielders when football resumes and Thomas Partey is one of the best we can get.