Thomas Partey Isn't the Player Arsenal Fans Think They're Getting - He's So Much More

Andrew Headspeath
Thomas Partey joins Arsenal from Atletico Madrid for around £45m
Thomas Partey joins Arsenal from Atletico Madrid for around £45m / Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Following the news of Thomas Partey's transfer to Arsenal from Atletico Madrid late on deadline day, 'Football Twitter' was set ablaze with congratulatory tweets.

In circumventing negotiations with Atleti by simply paying the release clause, Arsenal had completed the most expensive deal of the day at £45m, but it was a popular one nonetheless.

Fans of all teams gave grudging nods to Arsenal's astuteness in adding steel to their notoriously soft centre.

Thomas Partey has been universally approved as a good deadline day deal
Thomas Partey has been universally approved as a good deadline day deal / DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Finally, they had a player capable of breaking up attacks and dominating in the tackle - perceived weaknesses since the latter third of Arsene Wenger's reign at least.

Videos of the Ghanaian's crunching tackles on Lionel Messi and images of his ball recovery stats and FIFA cards flooded timelines late on Monday night.

BT Sport posted a clip showcasing the time back in March, right before the pandemic shutdown football, when Partey 'dominated' Liverpool at Anfield.

The perception is obvious.

Thomas Partey is over six-foot. He is a central midfielder. He comes from a Diego Simeone team. He is Ghanaian - with all the cultural bias that brings.

Thomas is a strong tackler, intercepter and he has great stamina, all typical qualities of a good defensive midfielder, but it's not that simple. He is not your standard 'destroyer'.

In that game against Liverpool back on 11 March in which the then-reigning European champions lost 3-2 after extra time, Partey's Atletico had 28% possession on the night.

It was hardly a midfield domination that highlighted the best of Partey.

Thomas' number of touches on the night (70) would've put him only ninth among Liverpool players, while he only completed the second most tackles (4) and interceptions (4) of any away player. Fine but not outstanding, really.

One area in which he did stand out, however, was with ball carrying. Partey completed two dribbles at Anfield, which sounds low but was as many as the rest of his teammates combined in a typically dogged, backs-to-the wall performance.

It's a common feature of Partey's game that is largely overlooked or ignored, at least by those outside of La Liga. Over the last three seasons in particular, Partey has been the man in Simeone's midfield to break the lines and progress the ball.

In 2019/20, he was third for completed dribbles by a central midfielder in La Liga. According to Squawka, back in June, in Europe’s top five leagues last season, only Thiago Alcantara had attempted over 50 take-ons with a higher success rate.

Earlier in his career, while out on loan at Almeria and Mallorca, Partey played out wide and even in an attacking role, where he showcased a grace and ability to go box to box that has remained a hallmark of his game, even as he has been pushed positionally further back.

For Ghana too, where he frequently plays higher up, he has been able to exhibit another strength; his wicked shot. He has an impressive 10 goals in 27 outings.

While far from a regular scorer at Atleti, Partey is a genuine threat from range. As reported by Opta, since 2017/18, no La Liga midfielder has scored more often from outside the box (5).

In finding his place at the Wanda Metropolitano, however, under the dogmatic, risk-averse Simeone, he has (after some early struggles) adapted to play deeper, using his positioning and physical attributes to shield the defence, while also being strong and silky enough in possession to kickstart the attacks.

Nip the ball back, retain it under pressure, maybe even beat a man or two and then ping a pass between the midfielders. For some clubs that list of role requirements is the job of two players. At Atleti, there's only been one Partey in town.

In what was to be his send-off game for Atletico, the 0-0 draw with Villarreal on Saturday, Partey typically completed the most interceptions, passes, long balls, had the most touches and second most dribbles for his side.

Diego Simeone is losing his all-action midfielder
Diego Simeone is losing his all-action midfielder / ANDER GILLENEA/Getty Images

Being able to do just about everything is his Partey trick. His exit leaves quite the void for Simeone, who had granted the midfielder a license to take risks (and make mistakes) in a way few other Atleti stars have been allowed.

Now at Arsenal, Partey - whose idol growing up was Michael Essien - has the chance to become another African superstar in the Premier League and show the world's most watched league the type of player he really is.

If Arsenal just want a holding midfielder, they've found a pretty good one but restricting Thomas in that way would be an enormous waste.