What Impact Could Partey and Aouar Have On Arsenal’s Midfield?
Arsenal are going into the last two weeks of the transfer window and there are still two names Mikel Arteta would like to bring to Arsenal – Houssem Aouar and Thomas Partey. Both players would be a large coup for the Gunners and improve the team no end.
Houssem Aouar is a French youth international midfielder, born in Lyon, with Algerian heritage. Aouar, a product of the Olympique Lyon academy, is highly sought after, with many clubs in Europe’s top five leagues eyeing the midfielder. Making his debut in the 2016/17 season, Aouar has gone on to make 138 appearances for Lyon, scoring 24 goals and assisting 27. The 22-year-old has played in a variety of positions including left midfield, attacking midfield, and defensive midfield. However, there is no doubt his best position is as a central midfield (number 8) and he has played 65 games there.
Thomas Partey is Atletico Madrid’s Ghanaian midfield destroyer. Under the tutelage of Diego Simeone, Partey has gone from strength to strength after breaking through in the 2015/16 season after two loan spells at RCD Mallorca (13/14) and UD Almería (14/15). The 27-year-old has since gone on to make 185 appearances for Atletico Madrid across five seasons. Partey has played most of his games (65) in central midfield usually in a 4-4-2, but has also played on the left and right of midfield, defensive midfield, right back, and once as a centre-back.
Style of Play
Aouar is very effective in possession and enjoys having the ball. The right footer’s role in the Lyon team is to link play together and either move the ball into the forward’s feet or over the top of the opponents defensive line for runners. Upon receiving the ball, Aouar uses his body positioning and skill to beat opponents trying to press him. His slight 5”7 frame and low centre of gravity, also helps him beat his man and makes him very hard to disposes. Moreover, he can receive, swivel, and unlock teammates in space, very quickly. This can be very detrimental against teams who press high or target him and leave space between the lines. All of the aforementioned, plus his quick mind and feet, allow Aouar to be the engine in midfield for his side and is very hard to stop.
Partey is a right-footed midfielder. He shields and guards the defensive line. Partey is indispensable in his role of protecting the defence and preventing play from coming through into the crucial central zones, where teams can shoot at goal or play a final pass. He is also very involved when on the ball and carries the ball well through pressure, using his physicality to beat opponents and move into open ground. Partey is very focused and rarely gets beaten for commitment. Diego Simeone’s intensity has only furthered Partey’s Premier League credentials, with his fight and aggression being an admirable trait. Partey is smart and he knows when is best to slot into the back line, should gaps appear, and when to close down opponents.
On The Ball
Last season on average, Aouar played 42.53 passes per 90 minutes and had a success rate of 85.17%. Aouar is a progressive passer. He plays 11.35 forward passes per 90 minutes, with an accuracy of 74.62%. Moreover, Aouar plays 1.96 through passes to the opposition’s penalty area. Aouar is more than adept at starting attacking moves from deep but is more than happy to get into the box and attack goal as well. This is shown through his 2.12 shots per 90 minutes. Aouar has significantly outperformed his expected goals of 5.4, with 9 goals. This probably means that in the Premier League, he won’t quite reach this seasons tally of 9, given he may have been the beneficiary of poor goalkeeping. Alternatively, it could be that he is shooting from improbable angles/distances, lowering the expected goals. Aouar has also bagged 5 assists this season, again outperforming his expected assists of 4.03.
Partey’s role in the Atletico midfield mainly revolves around breaking up play and ensuring his opponents can’t play inside. Despite this, Partey is very involved in the play and averages 52.07 passes per 90 minutes, with an accuracy of 86.8%. Thomas also plays 18.61 forward passes per 90 minutes. Furthermore, he attempts on average 9.42 progressive passes per 90. This ranks him 9th in La Liga, with Éver Banega in first, with 13.17 per 90. Partey also attempts 2.12 dribbles per 90 minutes and successfully completes 1.46 of those dribbles. As well as this, Thomas attempts 0.94 progressive runs during the 90 minutes. Partey also plays a great role in switching play. He played 236 long passes, with a success rate of 64.83%, last season. Partey is often doing this form a deeper position and this is shown through his 82 ball progressions of 40+ metres.
Houssem Aouar is largely effective in possession spells ending with shots and key passes. Surprisingly, he is less effective in idle possession. Last season, Aouar had an expected goals chain per 90 of 0.42 and an expected goals build-up per 90 of 0.26. This could be attributed to the play style of Lyon under Rudi Garcia. Particularly in big games, Lyon (who had a poor season, despite their Champions League heroics, finishing 7th) play relatively direct, and therefore most of his contributions in possession end with a shot or key pass, thus emphasising the higher expected goals chain score.
Thomas Partey is not a prolific goal scorer and this is demonstrated through his expected goals of 3.21 and 4 actual goals last season. His position is that of a more cautious midfielder, moving box to box when joining the attack, but rarely arriving in the box. Partey’s job is more to prevent a quick break out when Atletico lose the ball in the oppositions defensive third. His expected goals build-up per 90 is 0.34. This is relatively high, due to most teams preferring to drop off and protect against the counter attack, rather than dominate the ball and play into Simeone’s hands. In regards to expected goals chain per 90, Partey records 0.44. This could be down to the speed at which Atletico launch counter attacks. Partey plays a large role with his passing range.
Out of Possession
As you would expect, out of the pair, Aouar is the less defensively active. Last season, Aouar made 2.05 interceptions per 90 minutes and 3.39 ball recoveries. 51.26% of these recoveries came in the opposition’s half. Regarding loose ball duels, Aouar attempted 91 loose ball duels, but only won 21 (23.07%). This suggests that Aouar isn’t the strongest in the tackle, but rather reads the play, anticipating his opponent’s movements.
Partey is a very effective destroyer in midfield. His 7.16 defensive duels per 90 show this. Of these challenges, he wins 60.19%. One of Partey’s most important aspects is shown through his work in zone 14 (the zone just outside of the penalty area). The best teams retain great compactness in zone 14. Arsenal struggle in this area. For Atletico, Partey locks down this area. Its where most of his work takes place, with 49% (55) of his total 112 defensive duels in his own final third, being done in zone 14 alone. Furthermore, at 5”9, he has won 16 of 22 aerial challenges in zone 14. As well as his work in his own defensive third, Partey makes a large contribution across the pitch with 5.18 interceptions per 90 minutes. Partey also makes 10.82 recoveries per 90 minutes, with 35.56% coming in the opposition’s half.
How Will Aouar and Partey Fit Arsenal
Presumably, the potential signing of Aouar would be the long term replacement for Dani Ceballos, who has returned to Arsenal on loan for this season. Aouar would comfortably sit in a midfield pivot two, suiting him to Arteta’s 3-4-3. Aouar wants to see the full picture ahead of him and conduct play from deep. His ability to receive with an open body, before moving the ball on to a teammate is very similar to Ceballos. As well as this, Aouar is good at moving into space, receiving behind the lines of opposition pressure. He then is good at moving the ball on to a teammate. This allows him to effectively take part in positional play. For Lyon, he plays in the midfield pivot of a 4-2-3-1. Positionally, this suits him to Arteta’s midfield two his 3-4-3.
Partey would offer Arsenal much needed defensive protection, without losing any quality in possession. He can protect the defensive line, break up play, and positively contribute to possession. Partey is a very rounded player who could sit next to Xhaka, or a more adventurous player such as Aouar or Ceballos. He could ensure they had the protection and security, for them to go forward and take risks. Partey has the athleticism to cover large swathes of the pitch, making him the ideal partner for a slower or risk taking partner. Thomas plays as part of Simeone’s very successful “rear block”, which consists of the four midfielders and back four (in a 4-4-2). Great emphasis is put on discipline, tactical awareness, and operating as an autonomous unit. Arsenal are still in need of building this autonomy.
Pros and Cons of Each Player
Aouar is a very talented creative midfielder who certainly fits the profile of what Arteta wants as a central midfielder. His first touch and technique sensational. It should be enough just to know that Pep Guardiola waxed lyrical about him when Manchester City and Lyon clashed two years ago. His technical ability is second to none and he reads the game excellently. The weaknesses of Aouar’s game are his physicality and tempo of the game. When watching him play, whilst yes, he could execute positional play well and can rotate the ball quickly, he does sometimes take more touches than needed and needlessly stops play. The other question is, could he cope with the pace of the Premier League? At first, definitely not, with time – who knows.
Partey on the other hand is very complete. He is good on and off the ball, physically strong and intelligent. Thomas would bring so much know-how to Arsenal. He would give Arsenal that hard tackler fans have been crying out for. His weaknesses would be the price. His £50 million release clause, accurately depicts his value, yet is steep for cash strapped Arsenal. The only real other question, which goes for both players, is could they adapt to the lifestyle in England? Something many fall victim to.
The concern is, what right now is more vital – a player similar to the current options, who can create and manipulate possession beautifully, but isn’t the most defensively disciplined, or someone who can be dogged in the tackle, fight for every ball, and works very hard? Who offers more right now?
Both Partey and Aouar would be great signings for Arsenal. Their profiles fit the type of midfielders Mikel Arteta wants to bring to Arsenal. Partey’s athleticism would allow him to cope with the pace of the league and ensure he hit the ground running. I think it would be wise if possible if Aouar was signed, for him to be given a year as a rotation player. In this season, he could learn the Premier League, fit in with his teammates, and understand the tactical demands Arteta puts on his players. The next season would see Ceballos return to Real Madrid and Aouar could slot right in. This would prevent Arsenal from needing to find a player to plug the gap left by Ceballos.
It’s positive that these two names are being linked with Arsenal. They are clearly two players who would improve the team no end. Both Partey and Aouar would also offer great services for many years to come. They are true Mikel Arteta players – gritty, determined, and destined for greatness. Out of the two, right now, the first choice should be Thomas Partey. He would be a big piece in the jigsaw and undoubtedly be an improvement on Elneny or Torreira. Arsenal will need to replace Ceballos and Aouar is perfect for that role, but right now, Arsenal need Partey.