Who needs Aouar or Ozil? How Partey can help solve Arsenal’s creativity issue

Thomas Partey Mesut Ozil Aouar Atletico Madrid Arsenal Lyon GFX
The Gunners' deadline-day signing could make his debut against Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday and should make an instant impact

When Thomas Partey received possession 10 yards inside his own half while on international duty for Ghana on Tuesday afternoon, there didn’t appear to be much on.

However, having quickly manoeuvred the ball onto his right foot, Arsenal’s new £45 million ($58m) signing sent a delightful pass over the Qatar backline to release the onrushing Samuel Owusu, who raced away to make it 3-1.

It was Partey’s second assist in as many minutes and if Nicolas Pepe or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had been watching, they would have been licking their lips in anticipation. This was a thrilling demonstration of what their new team-mate could be capable of once he settles in north London.

Ghana eventually won the game 5-1 and although Swansea City’s Andre Ayew scored two goals, it was Partey who was the star of the show.

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Arsenal’s deadline-day recruit ran the show in midfield and proved that he is far than just the destructive ball-winner that so many in this country believe him to be following his time at Atletico Madrid.

The 27-year-old hasn’t been brought in just to sit in front of the defence; he’s been signed to have an effect at both ends of the pitch for Mikel Arteta’s side.

Against Qatar – limited opposition, admittedly – Partey gave a glimpse of what he will add to Arsenal in an attacking sense

As well as contributing two assists, he also created six chances – two more than any other Ghana player. He made 95 passes in total, 86 of which were successful, while 60 of them were made in the Qatar half. 

At a time when Arsenal are crying out for more creativity, Partey offers incision and invention.

“Thomas grabs the game by the scruff of the neck,” Ghana's Andy Yiadom told Goal. “Atletico obviously are really rigid and extremely disciplined, but having trained with him, I don’t see him as a player who just dogs about and protects the defence. He has got a lot more quality to him than that.

“I think his record in terms of goals for Ghana (10 goals in 28 games) proves that, because every time I seem to go away with Ghana, he scores, so he has got that attacking threat as well."

Thomas Partey Atletico Madrid Arsenal GFX

Arsenal spent the summer chasing Lyon’s attacking midfielder Houssem Aouar as well as Partey.

Ultimately, only the latter arrived and with Mesut Ozil still out of favour, that has left Arteta perhaps one piece short of the full jigsaw for the time being.

Creating chances continues to be a problem for the Gunners, even with the summer addition of Willian, who has yet to back up his exceptional display at Fulham on the opening day of the season.

Arsenal have had just 30 shots on goal in their opening four Premier League games of the season – only West Brom (27) have had fewer.

Both Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have managed just six shots so far – 35 players in the top flight have had more, including the likes of Tomas Soucek, Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay. Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane lead the way with 19 shots apiece.

Those numbers are an indication of Arsenal’s struggles in the final third so far this season and why so many – including Arsene Wenger – believe that Ozil needs to be brought back into the fold by Arteta.

“He's been the record player for assists, so you have to find a way to get him involved again,” the former Gunners boss told the BBC.

“I feel it is a waste for him and it's a waste for the club as well because he's a super talent, a creative talent that in the final third can create that killer pass.”

However, with Ozil having been left out of Arsenal’s 25-man Europa League squad, a return looks highly unlikely, with confirmation expected on October 20 that he has also not been registered for the first half of the Premier League campaign.

That means someone else needs to step up and Partey’s arrival will certainly help make Arsenal more of a threat when they go forward.

One of the reasons that Arsenal have been somewhat lacking in an attacking sense in recent months is Arteta’s switch from the 4-2-3-1 formation he was using before lockdown, to the back three he opted for after the restart.

The switch certainly made Arsenal tougher to beat and it played a huge role in the FA Cup success, but it also saw them having to rely on the counterattack to hurt teams as they were often outnumbered in midfield.

However, the signing of Partey is expected to see them soon revert to a back four, with the Ghanaian set to be at the heart of Arteta’s new midfield.

His main role will be to offer a defensive screen in front of the back four, but he will also be allowed to express himself far more than he did while he was part of Diego Simeone’s extremely disciplined Atletico side. Indeed, greater freedom to get forward was one of the reasons why he was so keen on a switch to north London.

Should Arteta go with a 4-3-3, Partey could sit alongside Granit Xhaka in the heart of the midfield, something that could give Dani Ceballos more licence to get up in support of the attack and be the link that has been missing in recent months.

Thomas Partey Arsenal line-up 2020-21 GFX

Alternatively, having a dynamic and mobile midfielder like Partey in the team could convince Arteta to return to the 4-2-3-1 formation we saw during the early stages of his tenure, with Willian deployed at number 10 and Pepe on the right of the attack.

Either way, Arteta has options once again.

"I think he allows us to play different formations and he can fit in within those formations in different positions,” said Arsenal’s manager. “This is a really good thing to have in a squad where, in midfield, I think we were a little bit short.

"I have a few things in mind that I want to start to train with the team and [Partey's signing] is going to give us a little bit more adaptability and more balance in defending and attacking transitions, and the way we have to set up certain structures to attack better in certain moments of the game."

Arsenal have long lacked a midfielder who can get on the ball and quickly transition the play from defence to attack. This is largely why the forwards have been left so isolated at times and have often had to feed off scraps or create things for themselves.

But in Partey they have a player who can split the lines with his ability to run with the ball at his feet. His 1.6 successful dribbles per game last season were bettered by just 28 players in La Liga

In all, he has completed 64 dribbles since August 2019, which is far more than any other Arsenal midfielder in that timeframe. Ceballos comes closest with 34, while Xhaka has just 25.

So, although Arteta may well still be missing that final piece of the puzzle, in the shape of an out-and-out creative player, the addition of Partey will certainly help mitigate the failure to add a playmaker during the summer. That's a void the club will more than likely fill next summer.

For now, though, they at least have a player in midfield who will improve them massively – at both ends of the pitch.