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Thomas Partey vs Houssem Aouar

It’s become a Twitter debate for the ages.

Partey or Aouar? Aouar or Partey? We’re kind of sick of the question at this point, just because we’ve heard it sooooo many times. The fact of the matter is, both players are being heavily pursued by Arsenal, and Arsenal fans are crying out – screaming, really – for both of them.

But talks seem to be stalling for both players, and it might be prudent for Arsenal to pick one and move. By concentrating all of their efforts on one side of the debate, they might just have a better chance to sign them.

In this article, Ross and I debate Partey vs Aouar, taking those respective sides. We’ll answer ten questions apiece, in an attempt to thresh out who should be signed. But at the end of the day, it’s your opinions that matter most. What do you think?

More from Pain in the Arsenal

The Case for Thomas Partey – Mac Johnson
The Case for Houssem Aouar – Ross Kennerley

1. Where are Arsenal weakest?

Mac – Arsenal are weakest at breaking defensive blocks. You might think this means that they’re weakest creatively, and to an extent that’s true, but I would argue that their biggest weakness lies when they are faced with a well-marshaled block of defenders working in unison. It doesn’t matter whether they’re playing West Ham or Man City, the drawbacks are the same.

It all starts at the base of the midfield. Our starting midfielders (read Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka) lack the pace and the confidence to dribble and pass through the press, instead of playing around it. That press-breaking role is exactly where Partey plays for Atletico Madrid.

His phenomenal skills in progressive passing and dribbling are matched only by his confidence and pure power on the ball. He’s almost the perfect tool when it comes quickly and precisely transitioning out from the back, especially in the deep-lying block Mikel Arteta seems to favor. Whether he’s played as a No. 6 or a No. 8, he immediately shores up the weaknesses Arsenal have in their own half.

And against West Ham, the biggest issue was the inability to make off-the-ball runs, something Partey specializes in.

Ross – We need to find a way to get the best out of our front men. That may sound bizarre, but we have one of the best strikers in world football getting just one or two chances per game. Sure, he scores enough, but feeding off scraps is hardly the service we should be providing for someone who, despite that, has still netted 60 goals in the past two seasons.

It’s not as simple as ‘putting someone in at number ten’. But as my colleague Mac demonstrated, the West Ham clash is a good example of where Arsenal are lacking. It fell on Ceballos’ shoulders to offer the key creative threat. This meant carrying the ball from deep as opposed to camping on the edge of their box, in a bid to disrupt the structure of the back four.

Someone with the dexterity to unpick those low blocks without the need to shift way out of position is essential. Whether it’s a divine first touch or the vision to see beyond the first ball, that dash of genius with the capabilities to produce magic from a near standing position is something Arsenal are lacking.

2. Of Partey and Aouar, Who Will Offer the Best Gain in the Short-Term?

Arsenal, Thomas Partey (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Getty Images)

Ross – At present, our issues lie in the final third of the pitch. Restructuring the side to leave less gaps in midfield and offering protection with wing-backs has proven a success, but it’s limited us elsewhere.

In 31 matches under Arteta, Arsenal have either conceded just once or kept a clean sheet in 25 of those games. It’s no secret that by moving to a back three to enhance our central defenders’ ball-playing ability, their frailties are less exposed. That ploy has made use harder to beat and tougher to break down, but it’s stunted our potency in attack.

We need that cutting edge. That midfielder who can carry the ball through the thirds with pace but still have the nous to thread a pass. We simply don’t have that at the moment. It’s all well and good shoring up at the back, but no amount of tactical wizardry or regimented shape is going to help us break down the lesser sides.

Ceballos and Bukayo Saka offered the key moments we craved against West Ham, but they were given a significant helping hand by slack marking from Andriy Yarmolenko. Right now, an Aouar type is yearned for when those opportunities don’t arrive. Someone who can find the pass in a moment where the opposition haven’t made an error. Fulham and West Ham are not good sides. What happens when we come up against good sides who don’t make mistakes? That’s where we need Aouar. And now.

Mac – Defense builds championships. It’s an old adage, but crucially important. Ask any winning coach, and they’ll tell you that having a resilient defense is the key to triumph. Unai Emery was brought to Arsenal to maintain our attacking prowess, while strengthening the defense. He failed at both, but the focus on defense was crucially important.

Arteta has rejuvenated our backbone somewhat, but we still concede far too many goals in transition, where the opposition is able to carve apart our midfield and expose the back line. Partey would render our midfield pretty un-carveable. See the equalizer in the West Ham game.

Especially as Arteta looks for this squad to control more of the ball, having a midfielder that lessens the defensive burden of Xhaka and Ceballos, thereby giving them the opportunity to create more effectively, will be key.

In addition, Partey is in the prime of his career. He’ll be an immediate force in the squad, playing at the top of his abilities. We have a lot of potential talent at this club; bringing in some more experience could be key.

Arteta constantly turns to the old heads and veteran voices in the squad and the locker room to carry the youth in the team forwards. Partey would contribute to that presence immeasurably.

3. Of Aouar and Partey, Who is the Better Investment Long-Term?


LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 06: A view of a corner flag prior to the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and AFC Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on October 06, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Mac – The easy case here is for Aouar, because he’s five years younger. But the key to long-term success revolves around winning either the Europa League, or securing a top-four berth, this season. And Partey is the man to help us do that, for all of the reasons outlined above.

Arsenal with a UCL budget is a really scary thing. We could sign Aouar and have a Chelsea-esque spending spree within two years. That’s a seriously delicious prospect. But this is our last opportunity to sign Partey, and I believe we’ll seriously regret it if we don’t. Long-term.

Ross – Obviously age is an important factor here, but it’s not one I’m too bothered about. Partey could play for another six years, quite easily. As Mac states though, short-term gain will lead to long-term success. For Aouar, he could become a Premier League stalwart for years to come, so too could Partey, but there is also a re-sale value attached if, say, Real Madrid come knocking on the door in five years’ time.

Ideally he comes in, smashes the division to bits and never leaves. There does, however, need to be a contingency plan. If Partey were to come in and, for whatever reason, struggle, then he’s harder to shift.

4. Who Else in the Squad Can Fulfill the Role of Partey/Aouar?

Ross – The fact that we’ve gone out and signed a 32-year-old winger to offer us an added spark in the side speaks volumes of the dearth of creativity in the squad.

That’s not the sole reason Willian was brought in, but in the short time we’ve seen him at Arsenal he’s already been tasked with providing something different in central areas.

People will obviously point to Mesut Ozil as someone who can offer what Aouar can, but they’re not similar players. We don’t have anyone in the team that has such a high level of technical ability, who can carry the ball with pace, jink through challenges and still provide end product. We have players who boast individual elements of that, but not the whole package.

Mac – Nobody can. For me, that’s the biggest difference between Partey and Aouar. We have some seriously creative options in our squad, who are currently shackled down by defensive duties, but we don’t actually have a true defensive midfielder. And by that I mean a midfielder who can defend, while still being seriously capable in possession, and off the ball.

The only argument I’ll possibly accept is Kieran Tierney, but in fairness I think he could play anywhere and I’d be happy with him. I’m only a little biased. He’s the perfect player for this squad – positionally flexible, spatially aware, defensively talented, and physical enough to compete with the league. He effectively combines the best attributes of Torreira, Ceballos, and Gabriel Magalhaes. Dream come true, I’m tellin’ ya.

5. Would He Have a Ready-Made Place in the Arsenal squad?

Mac – I believe so. The three formations Arteta has the opportunity are the 4-2-3-1, which he premiered at the beginning of his Arsenal tenure, the 3-4-3, which is his current formation of choice, and the 4-3-3, which is likely his ideal formation.

Partey has trained for the majority of his professional career in Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2 formation, which morphs into a diamond shape in the final third, with Partey at the base. As a result, he’s skilled at the base of a midfield, or in a pair. Perfect to slot right into any of those formations.

Arsenal, Mikel Arteta

Arsenal, Mikel Arteta (Photo by MICHAEL STEELE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

His defensive capabilities make him an ideal option for Arteta to permanently switch to a back-four, a tactical change the Spaniard has touted as the future of the club. I happen to agree with him on that front, but even if the 3-4-3 is the most viable option, Partey would be an inch-perfect fit, on either side.

Ross – There would need to be some shuffling around. Quality-wise, Aouar slots straight in, but he is utilised on the left of the three midfielders with wing-backs either side. Xhaka simply must play on the left of the midfield pairing due to his ability on his left foot, so Aouar would need to play to the right of him.

In a 3-4-3 he would take the place of Ceballos. The Spaniard likes to collect possession from deep and run at defences when Arsenal are in the mire, but with Aouar in the side he can operate further forward and allow the Swiss to spread balls left and right. It’s a role he plays for the national side, and one he does very well.

The truth is, whatever system you play, Aouar gets in. He simply must. He has quality that no other player in the squad has. Shoehorn him in wherever you can. Although, with a player of his ilk there is more scope to move into a 4-3-3 formation.

Having him play alongside Xhaka, though, is a dream scenario that would get the best out of both players. Any place where he can dictate the the inside channels he will flourish.

6. Which of Two Players Do You Believe Can be Found Elsewhere?

LISBON, PORTUGAL – AUGUST 15: Houssem Aouar of Olympique Lyon celebrates following his team’s victory in the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final match between Manchester City and Lyon at Estadio Jose Alvalade on August 15, 2020 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Franck Fife/Pool via Getty Images)

Mac – It’s such a tough question, because they’re both such exceptional players. One is a rock-solid holding midfielder who also happens to be exceedingly quick and mobile. The other is an all-action creative central midfielder with the footwork and dazzling brilliance you typically don’t find outside of Brazil.

But I’d argue that creativity is a far easier problem to replace. In the time it has taken Arsenal to replace Patrick Vieira (hint, we still haven’t), we’ve brought in a number of creative solutions. In previous articles, I’ve attempted to line up affordable replacements for both roles, and I found the creative role far more accessible.

Even if they don’t have Aouar’s specific skillset (nobody does), midfielders like Partey are one-in-a-million. There are enough Aouar’s in the world that we can find another if we miss out on this one.

Ross – As much as I yearn for Aouar to join Arsenal, I’d have to agree with you Mac. These days, there is an obsession with clubs to find the ‘glamorous’ holding midfielder. Not the all action, loves a challenge type, but the N’Golo Kante style player who is pleasing on the eye to watch.

Partey isn’t that type of player, but that type of player is what Arsenal need. I still believe we need the Frenchman more, but there is such a painful lack of quality number sixes in world football right now. Whichever mould of player you go for you’ll need to splash the cash, but it may be a long time before another Partey-esque player comes along.

I think the same of the 22-year-old, someone who really is a cut above and among the finest in the world at what he does, but there is more chance in the future of someone of his ilk coming along (they won’t be as good though).

7. What is Partey/Aouar’s Most Redeeming Quality?

Arsenal, Thomas Partey

Arsenal, Thomas Partey (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Ross – With the ball at his feet, there are maybe just a handful of players better than Aouar in the world. Given his composure on the ball and how he’s so wonderfully two-footed, his dribbling technique is unique and near impossible to defend.

There are so many glorious attributes he has, but it’s his talent on the ball that truly stands out. He thrives in tight spaces. Other players would prefer to avoid those instances, but he doesn’t need to be have acres of space around him to work his magic. With such good close control and a competent first touch, he can make a mountain out of a mole hill – in a good way.

We don’t have anyone in the squad who is anywhere near as good as he is on the ball.

Mac – His physicality. Above all, players need the physicality to be able to hack it in the Premier League. Regardless of the position, players struggle consistently to match the pace and power of English football.

Luckily, Partey will not have that issue. He has all of the physical components, before you even start talking about his ability, to keep up. There are Premier League veterans who still struggle to make that claim. And his biggest strength also aligns with what I believe is Aouar’s greatest weakness. His strength, aggression, and defensive tenacity could all be seriously improved.

8. Where is Partey/Aouar Weakest?

Mac – He’s not a particularly tricky player, which can be an asset in breaking the press, something he’ll certainly be asked to do. He tends to use his physicality and dribbling skill to get around opponents, but is also a very vertical dribbler, without many tricks and flicks in his locker. His creative output may seem muted as a result. Spoiler alert, it’s not, but he’s such a complete player it was hard to find something.

Ross – You need just take one look at him. He isn’t exactly an imposing figure. However, this won’t change.

He’s not suddenly going to grow a foot taller or bulk up Bayern Munich style. If he were to do so then he’d lose so much of his dexterity.

But there is no avoiding the fact that he may get roughed up pretty easily.

9. Why Would One Player be Vital to Securing a Top Four Berth/EL Win Above the Other?

Mac – As I already said, defense wins championships. Arsenal has a torrid history of losing out on opportunities because we concede stupid goals, and fall apart at the back. With Arteta at the helm, our attack has been a seriously consistent beast. Partey shores up our defense in a way very few others can.

Furthermore, he’s a proven Europa League winner, and if y’all recall, he was an absolute monster when we visited the Wanda Metropolitano. He was key to the Europa League-winning campaign, at both centre-mid and right-back. We could use his flexibility and experience. He also knows what it’s like to chase a league title and not achieve it, and trust me he’s hungry.

Ross – Our backbone is not outstanding, this much is sure. We don’t have certified world class central defender, nor do we in midfield. What we do have, though, is enough for now. Enough quality in those areas that are performing to a greater standard as a result of superior coaching.

You can’t, however, coach creativity. You can teach a midfielder about positioning, when to press and when to play the ball, but you can’t sculpt vision. Players who can see the passes others don’t are a rare breed. Players who are naturally talented with the ball at their feet come at a cost, because they’re unique. Enter Aouar.

10. Why do I Think, Above All, Arsenal Should Sign Partey/Aouar?

Mac – Because it’s our last chance. These two players are the key components this Arsenal team needs to skyrocket up the table, but Partey is 27. We miss our final chance to sign him after this summer, which leaves us scrambling in the defensive midfield area, yet again. Sign him now.

Ross – Arsenal lack X-factor. We’re now a distinctly more solid unit, calmer without the ball and more assured of our defensive duties, we just lack that one player who can turn on a sixpence and conjure a moment of genius. As it is, we rely on the collective to take it upon themselves to find that special moment. That is a very good thing, no doubt, but when the going gets tough, you always need that someone who you can rely on. That’s Aouar.


But enough from us, who do you think Arsenal should sign, and why? Give us your thoughts!

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