Thomas Partey of Atletico Madrid looks on during warm-up ahead of the Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Sociedad at Wanda Metropolitano on July 19, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors.
At long last, Thomas Partey is an Arsenal player.
Edu Gaspar and Mikel Arteta finally got their man in a deal that was only confirmed after deadline day at the close of the 2020 summer transfer window.
The Ghana international left Atletico Madrid after playing 188 games for the La Liga side across six seasons and is expected to take a leading role for the Gunners in the middle of the park.
After winning the FA Cup final last season, Arteta secured silverware in his first season as manager of Arsenal, and in doing so sealed a place in the 2020/21 Europa League group stages. Hopes are high that more glory could soon be in reach.
Partey has already lifted the trophy once before in Europe’s second tier club competition. He was a Europa League winner under Diego Simeone in 2018, and has been eyed as a potential missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle in north London by fans eager to see their options upgraded in front of the defence.
If Partey is set to be a key figure in the first team line up for Arteta, who else could be set to join the midfielder in the starting XI?
At the start of the summer, the goalkeeper may have been a difficult call to make. Coming off the back of his success in the FA Cup final, an argument could have been made for Emiliano Martinez.
However, he has since left the club to join Aston Villa, with Bernd Leno returning from injury to retake the number one spot between the sticks.
In defence, right-back Hector Bellerin might just be the first name on the team sheet within the back four, while Kieran Tierney has quickly gained similar status on the other side of the pitch as a dangerous but diligent force down the left.
Another summer signing, Gabriel Magalhaes, has been the bright light at centre-back so far, with his compatriot David Luiz still the most likely partner to the Brazilian for the time being.
The hope for critics of Arsenal’s three-man defence is that signing Partey will allow Arteta to shift to a back four more often, with the Ghanaian able to protect the rearguard and Leno’s goal.
Who joins Partey in the middle? Granit Xhaka has become a commanding presence through the centre, and has recently been ably assisted by Mohamed Elneny, but at times the Gunners have been lacked guile. That is where Dani Ceballos comes in. He is more adept at breaking the lines, either with the ball at his feet or passing forward to bring the attackers into play.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been effective at times cutting in from the left, but in a more assertive 4-3-3 shape the Gabon international could be unleashed through the middle, with support from Bukayo Saka and Willian down the left and right, respectively.
That would remain an option, but with Alexandre Lacazette having shown his ability to find the back of the net in a team that hasn’t always produced as many shots as their possession levels demand, the Frenchman’s readiness to pull the trigger should keep him in the conversation.
He would move up front with Aubameyang going to the left and Saka joining the likes of Nicolas Pepe in reserve on the bench as a game-changer ready to shift the course of a contest that needs a different approach to be brought back under control.
It would be a team offering pace, grit and intensity – and in keeping with the plan for what Arteta wants to bring to life at the Emirates.
Potential Arsenal XI with Thomas Partey: Leno; Bellerin, Gabriel, Luiz, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka, Ceballos; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang