The persistent rumours of Thomas Partey leaving Atletico Madrid for Arsenal this summer have gained traction during European football’s suspension and gathered more momentum in the last fortnight.
Arguably Diego Simeone’s leading midfielder, the Ghanaian’s influence in the team has soared following Rodri’s sale to Manchester City last summer. Even though the two-time Ghana Player of the Year had been impressive since the 17/18 campaign, many observers appeared not to truly appreciate what he brought to the team.
That has changed this year, however, with Juventus, Liverpool and Manchester United all said to be monitoring the West African’s situation in Madrid.
Mikel Arteta’s side are supposedly frontrunners for the anchorman’s signature but negotiations among all parties aren’t expected to develop until the end of the ongoing season.
Notwithstanding, what are the potential consequences of the sought-after midfielder leaving the Wanda Metropolitano this summer?
From Atletico Madrid’s perspective, the accrued debt of £178m from moving to their new stadium – which isn’t due to be paid in full until 2028, per Sky Sports, – already has them in a slightly precarious position financially.
Throw in the astronomical transfer fee for Joao Felix last summer and the potential of not playing Champions League football next season (they are sixth in La Liga with 11 games remaining) in a pandemic-hit period and Partey moving at the end of the season seems more plausible.
For Arsenal, all they have to do in theory is meet the player’s release clause, believed to be £45m, in truth a bargain in today’s inflated market, pandemic or otherwise.
More important than the Gunners’ potential outlay could be the midfielder’s profile, which fits seamlessly into the possession-based style Arteta’s trying to return the north London club to after the loss of identity under Unai Emery.
Partey’s forward-thinking nature hugely helps Atletico’s build-up in more ways than one. His proficiency at passing effortlessly between the lines routinely sees him pick out more advanced players centrally and in the inside right or inside left channels.
He combines that with an underrated passing range which helps him play in his full-backs or widemen if central areas are congested.
What’s particularly impressive about the Ghanaian is his all-round excellence. While many in his position are either experts in build-up play or defensive astuteness alone, the 26-year-old combines both to a T, which means he can hold his own in the middle of the park.
He plays the second-highest passes per game for Simeone’s team (41.2) at an accuracy of 83 percent, the third-best in the side. With 3.2 accurate long balls per match, the midfielder sits third behind Mario Hermoso (3.7) and Stefan Savic (3.4), which is more than fourth-placed Felipe (2.3) and Saul Niguez in fifth (2.2).
Partey’s well-rounded nature is emphasised in how many tackles he also makes per game (2.1), joint-fourth in the team, and interceptions per game (1.4), where he ranks second.
10 yellow cards, four more than Saul in second, shows a player who doesn’t shy away from getting involved in the less flashy stuff on the pitch and the fact he wins 63 percent of his total duels bode well for Arsenal if he does join them.
None of Arteta’s midfielders are as successful as the Atletico man in their tussles: Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka win 48 and 49 percent respectively, while Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira win 54 and 58 percent respectively.
Unsurprisingly, given the Gunners’ insistence on possession football compared to Atleti, the Ghana star doesn’t rival the passing stats of the top passers at the Emirates. On the other hand, only Ainsley Maitland-Niles beats his tackle and interception numbers on a game-by-game basis.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles Arsenal 2019/20
Naturally, Partey’s passing figures will improve in an Arsenal side that prioritise keeping the ball, but his positional awareness and steel already make him a good fit for the team.
With David Luiz expected to depart this summer, Arteta will need someone else pulling the strings from deep in the absence of the eccentric Brazilian centre-back.
Given the tendency of one of the midfielders to drop in with the two central defenders when the north Londoners have the ball, the Krobo Odumase-born star’s willingness to receive the ball in tight spots suggests he won’t shy away from assuming Luiz’s current role as the team’s ‘first attacking midfielder’.
Interestingly, Partey’s 1.9 successful dribbles per match is significantly higher than his current teammates’ and bettered by only Nicolas Pepe’s 2.7 at Arsenal. However, while the Ivorian is successful 57 percent of the time he attempts to beat his man, the central midfielder has an 87 percent success rate, further highlighting his assuredness with the ball.
Indeed, the Atletico man is every manager’s dream in central midfield and it’s no surprise Arteta has earmarked him as his primary transfer target in the off-season.
Be that as it may, while the three-time Premier League champions will be beneficiaries of the Ghanaian’s presence in their team, there are doubts as to whether a move to the red half of north London is in his best interests.
Arsenal currently lie ninth in the table, are out of the Europa League and have missed out on Champions League qualification for three successive seasons. They run the risk of making that four on the spin if they finish outside the top four (or five if Manchester City lose their two-year European ban appeal at CAS).
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s future also up in the air, Partey could potentially join a team significantly weaker than they currently are and not closer to competing for the top honours domestically and on the continent.
Admittedly, he would hugely improve the Gunners’ midfield, but their current transition and uncertainty surrounding their talisman beg the question if they’re the ideal destination club for him at 26 (he turns 27 in June).
The enormity of the job Arteta faces in taking Arsenal back where they truly belong is no mean feat, and the quickness of the process can’t be predicted.
While Partey would be the perfect fit for the 2019 Europa League finalists, it remains to be seen if the Emirates would be the in-demand midfielder’s best bet if the immediate goal is to claim titles.
The jury is certainly still out.