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Why Thomas Partey is Perfect For Arteta’s Revamped Midfield – Scout Report

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With very little about Arsenal to talk about these days, all eyes turn to speculation around transfers. Mikel Arteta is reportedly keen to begin altering the construct of the team and one of the areas he wants to pay interest in is the team’s midfield.

It’s no wonder then that the name of Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey has been linked to a move to the Emirates this summer. Plying his trade at Atletico Madrid, the club that has made him, he continues to rise in prominence after turning in solid performance after solid performance.

So, who is Thomas Partey? Why are Arsenal and other big-name clubs being linked to the player? In this scouting report, we break down his stats and his game and highlight some of the reasons why Mikel Arteta might be keen on him.

Who is Thomas Partey?

Nationality: Ghanaian
Age: 26
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 172 lbs
Dominant foot: right
Position(s): CM, DM

When you read about Thomas Partey, it is no wonder he has grown in prominence. This is a young man who worked his way up from the second division in Ghana to the Spanish top-flight.

He is at his core, the antithesis of the modern footballer – he’s not about the flash, he doesn’t sport a ton of tattoos, and he’s humble. He’s worked hard to get where he is and the respect he gets in the Atleti dressing room is a testament to his work ethic and character.

Diego Simeone, who has featured largely in his development, is happy to see the growth and recognition Thomas is getting.

“Thomas has been with us five or six years and I’m very happy he is being recognised now for both his hard work and talent,” Simeone said following that game.

“If he had been signed from an English or German club it would be different, but he is from your youth system, so he is ‘just Thomas.’ His work does not stop now. He has a big future ahead of him.”

Also featuring large in the DNA of this player is a maturity beyond his years. His experience in getting to the top of the Spanish division led him to buy part of a semi-professional team so that other young African players could get development in Europe and possibly follow their own dreams of playing on the continent.

If there was nothing else to know about Thomas Partey and all anyone had was anecdotes of his character, it would be no surprise as to why Mikel Arteta would want to bring this player into Arsenal. His DNA is exactly the type of determined player Arteta wants with him as he reshapes Arsenal.

But there is more. There are technical and tactical reasons why Arteta wants him.

Deep Lying Midfielder

This season Simeone has moved Thomas deeper into his midfield, where his positional sense and ability to read play help him break down an opponent and act as the start of the transition in attack.

Defensively what stands out about him is that seems to be fairly unremarkable when winning tackles and he currently averages 2.3 tackles per 90. This places him in the 45th percentile, which is slightly concerning, given that he plays as a DM. However, where he most effective is winning the ball through interceptions rather than tackles. He ranks in the top 25% with 2.4 interceptions per 90, which highlights his intelligence an ability to read the game.

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With Liverpool’s Mane attacking the right side of the Atleti defence, Thomas sees the trouble with the Liverpool player behind the three Atleti defenders

 

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Thomas’ positioning, is perfect. He doesn’t over commit and simply cuts off the opportunity for any play into the space behind him

Developmentally speaking, his positional sense always seems to put his body in the right place to break down attacks. In a variety of matches reviewed for this analysis, there were very few instances where his body shape, distance to player, and awareness let him down.

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Once again, perfect body position cuts off the space behind Thomas and limits Milner’s chances to progress the ball forward or create a chance on goal

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Milner is forced to retreat and go back out to the channel outside the 18. Its a less threatening position and with Thomas following him he has limited options. Thomas’s pressure would force Milner to lose possession with the ball rolling safely outside the endline

Another interesting facet of Partey’s defensive play is that he already seems to be adept at tactical fouling. He currently gives away 1.7 fouls per game, which ranks him amongst the top 35% for total number of fouls conceded per 90 mins. And who can forget that video of Arteta at City talking about the need for tactical fouls through the midfield? Something we’ve caught only a little glimpse of here at Arsenal.

But as with anything Arteta does at Arsenal, he wants his team to be in control of the game through control of the ball. It’s in that facet of the game you can see a player of Thomas’ stature fitting at Arsenal.

Integral Part of the Attack

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Whisker chart highlighting Thomas attributes (courtesy @oh_that_crab)

 

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Spider graph highlighting Thomas attributes (courtesy @oh_that_crab)

One thing has been evident in Arteta’s set-up is that he wants his midfielders, especially those who come from a deeper position, to be a catalyst in breaking down teams. He looks for a DLP to be able to spray the ball over the top out on a diagonal pass with wingers breaking into the final third.

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Thomas is adept at finding the right space that keeps him open for the big switch. Here he takes up a position behind the ball and open enough to catch a glimpse of the wide target

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Receiving the ball on his front foot and with a slight half turn, the wide player starts his move and Thomas has an excellent view of the space behind 3 defenders

When you watch Thomas play, one thing among all others sticks out to you – his ability to spray the ball out wide to the Atleti wide players. Whether it’s from the midfield third of his own team or in the opposition midfield third, he floats looking for space to receive the ball and then looks to make the switch out wide and carry the attack forward.

His completion of 4.6 long balls per 90 suggests that he’s perhaps a more direct player that can switch play if required. That would, however, only be part of his game.

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Thomas’ pass is perfectly placed behind the defenders and far enough in front of the attacker to lead him into the 18 and attack the box. The net result was a chance created (no goal)

At this point in the analysis of Thomas, it’s easy to compare him to Granit Xhaka who has a similar style of play. However, Thomas has other abilities in his tool kit that Xhaka doesn’t.

Thomas has, in addition to his long-passing game, an array of short passes that help break into the final third of an opponent. Overall, the combination of passing abilities makes him a very tidy passer of the ball and rarely gives up the ball. He has a pass completion of 83.1% and ranks among the top 15%. When looking at the passes chart, in addition to his pass completion, he is a very productive passer who focuses on moving the ball forward.

 

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Thomas does most (58%) of his passing in the middle of the park. However, he can also link up with the attackers in the final third (29% of his passes) (Courtesy @oh_that_crab)

To round out the passing traits, Partey is excellent at dribbling at defenders and opening up space to make attacking moves into the final third – something he is very strong at where he fits in the top 5 percentile. Interestingly though, he is not a man who creates a lot of key passes for Madrid as he falls in the bottom 10% for key passes created with a rate of 0.29 key passes per 90.

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Once again Thomas is in the perfect space to receive a ball back behind the opposition defensive block. With the ball at his feet he has two possible direct channels to dribble or pass in to

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Thomas instead decides to start a run to his right – drawing two of the defenders and one of his teammates to their left opening space behind them

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Thomas is as strong with the ball dribbling as he is passing. He executes a quick Cruyff turn once he creates the space to attack and he immediately attacks that space to penetrate behind the midfield line

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Once he has penetrated the midfield line, and his second option is gone, Thomas sees the movement in front and prepares to make a pass into space to set the forward free

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The pass is perfect, the striker goes in and scores

He is also not a player prone to turnovers and on average he gives the ball away less than 1 ½ times per game. Given Arsenal’s propensity for constantly giving away the ball in the midfield, especially in our own half, Thomas would be a welcome sight for fans tired of seeing opposition chances created by our own poor handling of the ball.

Overall

His strongest attributes are pass competition, final third entry, lack of turnovers and creating turnovers, recoveries, interceptions, and long-balls. He is a multidimensional player whose passing and dribbling ability Arsenal sorely lack in the midfield.

When you watch him play the talent oozes off the screen. He’s a player who outplayed Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in 0-0 this past September.

It’s all tied together neatly with the persona, commitment, and determination Arteta craves from his players. It’s a move Arsenal would be stupid not to make.

The Reality

According to Ghana Web, Atleti are set to offer Thomas a new deal estimated at €79,000 per week. This new deal is being offered because they hope they can fend off clubs like Arsenal who are sniffing around.

Thomas has a release clause of £43 million and given how Atleti lost key players to release clauses last season, it’s not surprising they are trying to ward this one off.

All in all, the release clause and even Atleti’s revised deal may not be strong enough to ward off English suitors if they come calling. The release clause is mid-market value these days for English clubs and there are youth players making more than the €79,000 per week being offered.

However, as we outlined early in the piece, Thomas is a player with character and he comes across as intensely loyal. With Atleti fighting for the Champions League and Spanish first division title, would he consider leaving?

The answer won’t make for good reading:

“I’ve grown up in Atleti and I am sure I will stay here,” he said. “I don’t know of another place that will understand how I play like they do here.”

Thomas dismissed the rumours when speaking recently to Cadena COPE. Additionally, it looks like City and other teams are trying to lure Rodri and Saul away from the Wanda Metropolitano. If they were to be successful in those endeavours, it’s unlikely they’d let another key component of their midfield go.

With all that taken into consideration, Thomas Partey is likely not come to the Emirates or any Premier League stadium any time soon. However, his talent, skills and more importantly his mental makeup give us the profile of the perfect player for Arteta’s Arsenal midfield.

Attributes: All stats graphics are courtesy of Scott Willis (@oh_that_crab) and are used with his permission. Additionally, all video visuals are courtesy of WYSCOUT.com.

Vivan Sachdev (@Versus_Arsenal) contributed to this article

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