Is Thomas Partey Really the No. 6 Arsenal Need?

Arsenal, Thomas Partey (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Thomas Partey (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images) /

Thomas Partey might not be the player Arsenal fans think he is, or want him to be.

For nigh-on two years now, Arsenal fans worldwide have touted Thomas Partey as the second coming of Patrick Vieira, the powerful enforcer who can anchor a title-winning midfield. His release clause of £45m has put Arsenal on tenterhooks, but the club continue to renew their interest in the player.

Talks are stalling over the Ghanaian, as Arsenal are struggling to fund that release clause, and it’s at this point whether the question must be asked: is Partey the savior of our holding midfield? Because this really is the last summer before we can move on.

Frankly, I have my doubts that Partey is really the player we need him to be. He’s a fantastic footballer, certainly, but he’s not the number six many Arsenal fans are crying out for. As he’s evolved as a footballer, the box-to-box role has become his home.

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Through an ever-evolving series of positional needs within the Atletico squad, Partey has fallen into the Ainsley Maitland-Niles role of de facto utility player. While his preferred role is through the center, he has deputized on both wings, and most prominently at right-back.

And while his flexibility is startling, it has also contributed to a number of skills that the Ghanaian might not have developed otherwise. His sense of positional play is razor-sharp, and his passing has improved leaps and bounds.

His progressive passing, in particular, is his major asset.  As he has developed through his career in Spain, his defensive contributions have waned, making way for a far more balanced midfielder. He’s still iron-clad and unmoving is his defensive pursuits, and can make an attacker’s life a living hell, but frankly, he shouldn’t be restricted to a holding midfield role. He has so much more to offer.

He’s still a dogged, inch-perfect, and resolute defender, and that will always be a part of his game, especially considering his prominence and longevity within the Diego Simeone system. But he’s actually a more complete player than most of us give him credit for.

I’m not saying Arsenal shouldn’t sign Partey, as he’d be an excellent asset to our team, and would certainly be able to cover up some of our defensive frailties.

Could Thomas Partey Fit in, if Not as a No. 6?

Arsenal, Thomas Partey
Arsenal, Thomas Partey (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images) /

The short answer: yes. But wherever he plays in the Arsenal system, it should be as a number eight, as one half of a two-man pairing.

If Arteta persists with the 3-4-3, then I can think of nobody better to take over the Granit Xhaka role. The more defensive of the two, responsible for controlling the midfield, dictating tempo, and providing cool composure to the game.

He’s also an athletic phenom, and would get caught out of position far less than Xhaka. As a result, a return to the high-pressing system Arteta still wants to implement might be on the cards. If that’s the case, he could certainly partner up with many of Arsenal’s midfielders in the base of the 4-2-3-1 formation.

That setup was Arteta’s go-to formation before the COVID-19 break, and there are murmurings from various voices around the Arsenal world that a back-four is destined to make a reappearance this season, as Arsenal look to continue their rebuild in a more competitive fashion.

The addition of Willian and the return of Emile Smith-Rowe make that formation a more marked possibility, and Partey would function superbly in it. But if it doesn’t make a reappearance, the      4-3-3 is likely the next option, and this could be where Partey functions best.

The 27-year-old would be completely unstoppable in the centre of the park, in a midfield pairing with a more creative outlet. In a similar vein to Youri Tielemans at Leicester, or Gini Wjnaldum at Liverpool, Partey would be an impeccable technician, ball-shuttler, and recycler of possession, all the while using his prodigious defensive acumen to throttle counter-attacks, instead of letting the opposition get a run on him.

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And yes, while he could merely function at the base of a 4-3-3  – I imagine that’s where most Arsenal fans are baying for him to play – he’s too valuable of an asset to simply screen the back-four. He can give us so much more than a conventional number six, for example, and so I question if he’s the player for that role that we actually need.