Thomas Partey Brings the Best Out of Granit Xhaka
There will never be a universal agreement on Xhaka. Not from Arsenal supporters, nor any other set of fans of opposing teams. Just as there are clear deficiencies in his game, there are unquestionable benefits to his presence.
Disagreements occur over which side outweighs the other.
Mobility and general speed in actions are the flaws, whether it’s the distinct lack of pace, ability to move quickly out of tight situations or speed of thought when on the ball. On the other side, he’s unearthed a newfound defensive steel of late, is a leader on the pitch – he gave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a good earful on Monday – and has distributive qualities.
What Partey succeeds in doing is suppressing those negatives through his own unique skillset. The antithesis of the Swiss on the ball, Partey seeks out the positive action, but does so in as little time as feasible. Understanding the economy of touches, and having the skill to match his thought process, he can progress the ball up the pitch with his own tidy range of pass.
Having that option in midfield eases the weight of expectation on Xhaka to be constantly offensive with his own distribution, and draws opposition players into Partey’s vicinity to grant him more space. When Xhaka has more freedom he can find those on the left flank or elsewhere with enhanced functionality.
Defensively, having Partey’s intelligence in transition adds greater solidity in front of the back four, while his athleticism means he can cover ground more effectively than Xhaka.
That isn’t to say Xhaka was ‘carried’ on Monday. His inadequacies will never be fully eradicated – no player is perfect – but he played a key role in dominating that area of the pitch against an atrocious Newcastle side just like Partey.
The difference is that Partey will allow Xhaka’s better qualities to sing, thus lessening the negative impact of his failings. Whoever plays with the 27-year-old will be improved, whether indirectly or first-hand, but while new midfield recruits are sounded out, it is the Switzerland international who partners him best for balance in the trio that includes Emile Smith Rowe.