Football Features

Thomas Partey: Europe’s surprise dribble doyen set to transform Arsenal’s midfield

By Squawka News

Thomas Partey: How Arsenal's midfield is set to be transformed | Squawka

Published: 18:30, 13 October 2020

Arsenal completed the signing of Thomas Partey in a late (and ruthless) deadline day move in which Atletico Madrid were only informed after the player’s release clause had been triggered. 

The Ghanaian midfielder has established himself as one of the most consistent players in his position over the past few years for Diego Simeone’s side, excelling on both sides of the ball.

Arsenal were continuously linked with Partey throughout the summer transfer window and although the deal looked to be dead in the water as deadline approached, the London club managed to turn things around and got the deal over the lin by triggering his £45.3m release clause.

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Mikel Arteta was naturally elated with the purchase of his long-term summer target, telling the club’s official website: “We have been watching Thomas for a while, so we’re now delighted to add such a high quality player to our squad.

“He is a dynamic midfielder with great energy. He brings a lot of experience from a top club that has competed at the highest level in La Liga and the Champions League for several years.

“We’re very impressed with his attitude and his approach to the game. He’s an intelligent footballer and we’re looking forward to him integrating into our system and contributing to the progress we’re building at the moment at the club.”

Partey joins Gabriel Magalhaes, Willian and Runar Alex Runarsson as the Gunners’ major arrivals this window, while Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari made their loan moves permanent, and Dani Ceballos extended his stay from Real Madrid for the season.

What does Partey offer Arsenal?

Some may look at Thomas Partey as just a defensive midfielder, someone to stop play from reaching his back line, whether through tackles or interceptions. But he is so much more than that.

As you would expect in a Diego Simeone-led Atletico Madrid midfield, Partey had to put himself about defensively, and it is a position in which the Ghanaian has thrived over the years. Fully utilising the system, Partey averaged 2.43 tackles per 90 minutes in La Liga last season, one of the more frequent tacklers among Atletico’s regulars. But where he really shone defensively was thanks to his reading of the game.

Among Atletico players to feature for at least 500 minutes in La Liga last season, only centre-back Felipe made more interceptions per 90 than Partey’s 1.69 as the Ghanaian was often the central midfield left to defend while his partner played a slightly more attacking role. Partey also made more ball recoveries than any other Atletico player to play at least 500 minutes last season, at 7.86 per 90 – that’s winning back a loose ball after a clearance or duel, for example.

It is for this reason that Partey is often heralded as a top defensive midfielder. But he is not a one trick pony.

In fact, Partey’s best attributes are perhaps his attacking ones, both when holding onto the ball and moving it on. Partey has previously been praised by Simeone for his ability to transition defence into attack with progressive, line-breaking passes. The Ghanaian averaged 8.53 passes into the final third per 90 minutes in La Liga last season, more than any other Atletico player, although the club as a whole was not overly prolific in this department.

But when Partey decides to take opponents on himself, boy is he good. In La Liga last season, Partey completed 57 take-ons, at least 20 more than any other Atletico player at an average of 2.01 per 90. More remarkable, however, is the success of his take-on attempts. The 27-year-old completed 83.82% of his attempted take-ons in La Liga last season, a better success rate than any other player to attempt at least 50 across Europe’s top five divisions. In the Premier League, Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic was the dribbling king, completing 79.38% while another new boy Thiago Alcantara had a success rate of 83.53% in the Bundesliga.

And it is this versatility that appears to delight Arteta most, with the Spaniard recently saying: “I think he [Partey] allows us to play different formations and he can fit in within those formations in different positions, which is a really good thing to have in a squad where, in midfield, I think we were a little bit short.”

Have Arsenal finally completed their midfield?