The understated importance of Thomas Partey to this Arsenal side cannot continue to be ignored by Jimmy Grain
Mohamed Elneny’s new contract was announced last week and I’m pleased that, by all accounts, a great guy and solid player will be with us again next season. We will need to ensure that we have depth when returning to the relentless grind of Europa League football and he is a dependable player who will help in managing Thomas Partey’s minutes whilst we look to minimise the risk of further injury.
Elneny will receive a one-year deal with an option of a further year. That is a sensible length of time as there may not be a place for him in the squad in 2023. The deal also makes financial sense, given that he is the most followed Arsenal player on social media by quite some way and brings some commercial value in the football-mad Egypt.
The significant drop in quality from our only other true defensive midfielder though, does worry me. Partey was sorely missed during our 3-0 drubbing against Spurs and Elneny was a far cry from the magisterial performances that Thomas has put in against some of the top sides of our league.
Partey shields the defence well with his good positioning and physical presence. He’s also integral to our build up, relieves pressure with his elite receiving of the ball and creates attacks with a fantastic dribbling ability and quality passing range. This summer’s central midfield signing must alleviate the worries around Partey’s fitness.
Whether we purchase a more defensive or more offensive midfielder all comes down to how flexible Mikel Arteta is willing to be tactically. Thus far, he has tinkered with 5 at the back and the 4231 formation but we’ve looked at our strongest in a 433 with Partey at the base of midfield. I think that that’s the formation that Arteta favours in an ideal world.
Granit Xhaka is a good player and an important leader for us, but he does not have the defensive nous or discipline to play as a six. Thus, we either need to sign someone who can play at the base of midfield or someone with enough quality defensive attributes to make us solid enough in a double pivot featuring Xhaka.
Yves Bissouma and Kalvin Phillips are players that I believe could play either side of a midfield three when Partey’s fit, or as the holding midfielder when he’s not. Phillips would be my preference. We’ve been heavily linked with Youri Tielemans but signing him would leave us with only Elneny and Maitland-Niles, (whose future is unclear), as our reserve DM’s. This means that we’ll probably have to play a two-man midfield when Partey’s not available.
I would be concerned with the defensive security of our side with a Xhaka and Tielemans double pivot. Likewise, I would be worried about our build up if either of them were paired with Mohamed Elneny. Tielemans is a player with undeniable quality, but I think that we need to prioritise more defensive security and with Smith Rowe likely to move into midfield following the purchase of another winger, we have enough attacking midfielders for the time being.
It will be interesting to see what route Arteta goes down. I am glad that Thomas has become such an integral player to our side after a wobbly start but it’s high time that we made sure we aren’t so reliant on him. We can’t be going into massive games like the North London derby with such a weakened midfield. That simply can’t happen again.
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