Arsenal transfer target Thomas Partey has been on the club’s radar for a significant period of time, but stepping up their pursuit of the midfielder at this particular point is for good reason.
There has been a long-term issue for the Gunners with finding a balance between attack and defence at the Emirates Stadium, with a lack of defensive midfield security a large part of that.
Supporters have too often found themselves revelling in the attacking prowess of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while shuddering at the lack of structure out of possession.
An average of 12.71 shots against this season best illustrates the defensive fragility Mikel Arteta has to address this summer.
For context, Chelsea concede considerably fewer shots with only 7.1 per 90. Whilst shots against don’t always equate to more goals conceded, it certainly paints a picture of the Gunners struggling from a defensive point of view.
Furthermore, given that Arteta also favours a 4-2-3-1 formation, having at least one defensive midfielder who can protect the back four is an absolute necessity and something they have clearly lacked this season.
As a result, we begin to see why signing a defensive midfielder is towards the top of the club’s agenda in the upcoming transfer window. A deal for Atletico Madrid’s Partey is far from completed, according to the player’s representatives, but there is good reason why the north London club should go all out to sign him this summer.
First and foremost, there are few defensive midfielders in world football right now that could fill the void in Arsenal’s midfield better than Partey.
His role under Diego Simeone over the past few seasons has been primarily based on protecting the back four in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Many supporters will be aware of just how effective Atletico Madrid have been from a defensive viewpoint in recent years – as shown against Liverpool in the Champions League earlier this season.
Partey’s role as the holding midfielder has highlighted just how effective he is in terms of covering depth and preventing the opposition from advancing. The Ghanaian international’s aptitude to protect the back four as a sitting midfielder will undoubtedly be one of the reasons Arteta is keen on signing the 26-year-old.
7.52 defensive duels per 90 in all competitions this season shows how often he defends, but a success rate of 62.1% provides important context around how effective he is in that position.
However, Partey isn’t solely limited to acting as a sitting midfielder that invites pressure upon himself.
His ability to recover position in key areas of the pitch acts as one of his best traits and further reinforces just why he can operate as a sole defensive midfielder.
This is highlighted throughout his impressive numbers in terms of ball recoveries. Such a metric proves useful in illustrating how often a player is able to regain possession and Partey’s 10.97 per 90 this season shows tremendous work rate in midfield.
His performance in the second-leg against Liverpool last month probably showcased this attribute best with an astonishing 20 ball recoveries over the course of the match at Anfield.
As shown below, the 26-year-old’s defensive mindset proved invaluable in disrupting Liverpool’s attacking fluidity and allowed Atletico Madrid to move forward.
By nudging Georginio Wijnaldum off of the ball, Partey demonstrates his physical presence in midfield while also being able to read attacking phases of play to great success. For Arsenal, this added defensive security would undoubtedly prove valuable after years of leaking shots due to fragility in midfield and defence.
One important thing to remember here is that Simeone has far more experience at setting up a rigid defensive structure than Arteta does.
Therefore, it is likely that Partey would have to assume more responsibility in being able to hone the defensive skills of those around him too