Everyone’s spirits are lifted by our new Ghanaian midfielder.
From the (empty) terraces, through the changing rooms and up into the manager’s office, there is nobody who isn’t excited about the potential of this Arsenal squad after Thomas Partey’s arrival.
While some players will be pushed slightly further down the pecking order, there are others who could flourish alongside the 27-year-old.
Namely, Dani Ceballos.
We can bang on about the lack of creativity in our midfield ranks, an issue the club pushed hard to amend, but in the end Houssem Aouar was not forthcoming.
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For most of last season and following through into the current campaign, the creative roles within the squad have been shared across the squad. Whether it’s Bukayo Saka’s short bursts of pace to break the lines, or Hector Bellerin’s incisive runs in between full-back and centre-back, sharing the load of those duties hasn’t fallen upon one particular person’s shoulders.
Ever-changing formations and evolving tactical roles have tried to broaden the horizons of Arsenal’s attacking phases, but Ceballos has often been tasked with being the platform for such passages to build from.
Dropping deep in various points throughout matches, sometimes even operating as an extra centre-half, the onus has been on him to act as a springboard for attacks from deep starting points. When he’s on song, neat one-touch moves and intelligent distribution has been crucial to Arsenal snatching late goals, and even points.
It’s not his forte, however. The Spaniard upped his game towards the latter end of last season alongside Granit Xhaka, but he’s not as nimble in short bursts which is key to progressing from deep areas of the pitch. In order to play your way through the thirds it’s a trait that’s essential, hence why players like Thiago Alcantara have been the pinnacle of their position for years on end.
With Partey’s inclusion, I’d like to see Ceballos given more license to roam into the half spaces, as he has the technical dexterity to operate in tight avenues. With the ball retention skills and added mobility of the Ghanaian, relinquishing a degree of Ceballos’ defensive duties will allow him to use his spacial intelligence in more dangerous areas.
As it is, he has to be wary of breaks when possession is turned over in attacking phases, thus stunting his scope for flair. How often do we see Ceballos have his best moments in matches when Arsenal are chasing a game late on against a side camped in their own half?
Operating across the edge of the box is where his primary qualities come to the fore, not being stuck in retracted central areas where his passing lanes are limited. He doesn’t have the best range of pass, especially lofted long balls, yet is precise with give-and-go’s in compact zones.
Given his tactical acumen and incredible reading of danger, Partey is a not only a shield of reassurance, but a progressive passer of the ball who can pick out teammates from afar. Stretching the game like this if Arsenal are in forward areas will draw the best out of Ceballos’ admirable vision in advanced areas.
While it’s a wish of mine and perhaps of other to see this duo, I widely expect it to be a common feature for the rest of the season.
Exactly how Arteta balances his midfield is going to be hugely intriguing to see, although I do imagine this particular pairing will be high at the forefront of his mind, whether that is in a 3-4-3, 4-3-3 or otherwise.