Thomas Partey struggled last season at the base of the Arsenal midfield. The saga of his transfer, the last minute move, injuries and an underperforming squad set him up to fail. This season, he will be looking to bounce back in a big way.
Partey has joined up for pre-season and the reduced amount of games next season leads fans to hope that injuries will be few and far between.
While less physical strain should ensure that Partey can start, what he does with his time on the field is crucial to Arsenal’s success.
Flashes of brilliance were seen throughout this past campaign but it is paramount that Mikel Arteta extracts consistency from his midfield gem. Finding a player complementary to the Ghanaian should be at the top of the shopping list. While pre-season matches mean precious little, when the 28-year-old came on against Hibernian that unavoidable gulf in class became clear once again.
The jump up from an Ainsley Maitland-Niles or a Mohamed Elneny to Partey is a frightening leap. He desperately needs a quality options alongside him.
Here are three such players that can get the best out of Partey. And, as noticeable, they are all different profiles which highlights the midfielder’s versatility in the centre of the park.
3. Kalvin Phillips – Leeds
Kalvin Phillips has been the standout performer in an exhilarating Leeds side. He lit up the stage in the Championship and there were doubts over whether his ability would translate to England’s top flight but he has has dispelled all fears and has impressed both home and opposition fans alike.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side is based on a man-to-man pressing system with players pushed forward and attacking at every possible opportunity. This can leave the midfield isolated to counter-attacks, however, Phillip has shown ability both on and off the ball with outstanding energy.
Only Jorginho ran more than him at the European Championships.
Excellent fitness blends with defensive nous and a wide ranging of passing. He has been simply outstanding for Bielsa.
Dazzling England fans with his performances at the Euros it’s clear that the big stage does not seem to shake his confidence, and his composure is clear to see on the pitch. Phillips is also the right age profile that Arsenal should be targeting. While he’s not exactly a kid at 25, he is in his prime. He can elevate the midfield in the here and now while continuing to develop.
Bringing Premier League experience, he’d help unlock Partey‘s yet to be fully unleashed box-to-box side. He wouldn’t come anywhere close to cheap, though, and is he a Leeds boy for life? Worth finding out.
2. Denis Zakaria – Borussia Monchengladbach
Denis Zakaria is a name Arsenal fans will be quite familiar with. The Swiss midfielder has been linked with the London club plenty of times in the past – and for good reason. He possesses all of the requisite attributes of a player worthy of a big move.
He can break with lines with bursting runs forward. He is extremely mobile, can sprint up and down the pitch tirelessly and despite standing at 6’3″, he is no slouch physically.
His strength on the ball along with his surprising agility offers a sense of security as he turns away from opposition players. This sense of security has not been as present with Granit Xhaka, to say the least.
Then there are off-field benefits to be considered as well. Zakaria was out for much of last season due to injury. Add to that his contract situation (with his deal expiring in one year) and Arsenal are in a strong position to negotiate a less expensive move. He’s available for peanuts.
Zakaria is still only 24 and would be an incredible alternative on his Swiss compatriot yet he would need time to recapture his best pre-injury form, which he struggled to unearth for Switzerland at the Euros.
1. Houssem Aouar – Lyon
While some links drift away as quickly as they appear, some linger relentlessly. Arsenal’s interest in Houssem Aouar seems to be the latter. The London club moved for the French midfielder last summer but Lyon’s valuation of the player was deemed too high. The club hierarchy subsequently turned their attention to Spain, paying Partey’s release clause on deadline day in a complete 360 turn in terms of profile.
One year later and the remarkable lack of attacking threat and creativity cause fans to question the decision making of the club. While Partey’s ability cannot be questioned, there is no doubt that Aouar provides something different.
Exceptional technique, brilliant passing ability and dazzling dribbling are on display when Aouar takes to the field. Still only 23, like the other players on this list, he would be an upgrade to the options already at the club while still being able to grow and improve.
Arsenal will certainly face stiff competition from clubs that can offer the lure of Champions League football.
Should the club negotiate around this difficulty, however, a deal could be completed for a measly £25m and the previously concerning issue of European football is no longer deemed a major stumbling block.
Arsenal’s midfield needs to be revamped and if this move somehow gets completed, it could be the steal of the summer. Add to that the Frenchman’s versatility and Arteta can shift towards his favoured 4-3-3.
Lacking the defensive output to be half of a double pivot, Aouar’s capability of switching out to left-winger adds another dimension. At this price and considering Arteta’s adoration for his skillset, it’s a no-brainer.