Saturday, June 15, 2024

Partey, shifting to back four, and a Champions League tilt

The dust has settled a bit now that the transfer window has closed, and we know – more or less – what our senior squad is going to look like between now and January. Of course that’s just a couple of months away, and transfer speculation will begin again, but I think the winter window is one in which any potential business will be outward. Given the outlay on Thomas Partey and that it all had to paid in one go, I don’t think there’s much chance of any significant spending.

The financial aspect of the deal is quite interesting. The Arsenal Supporters Trust believe that the money which had previously been held in the Debt Service Reserve Account – somewhere in the region of £36m – was made available following KSE’s restructuring of the stadium back in July. That would certainly have helped, but given the hit we’ve taken in terms of income, you have to wonder if the ownership added a bit more – or if what we brought in for Emi Martinez was enough to add to the pot to make the Partey deal happen.

Ultimately though, how his purchase was made possible is less important than his arrival, and what he might bring to the team. I know we all crave every piece of information about every aspect of every single thing these days, but his importance to the team as a signing, a player who can bring something different to midfield, and the knock-on effect it could have on the side is the main thing.

For some extra reading and viewing regarding the new signing this morning, here’s some stuff we’ve put together over the last day or so on the site:

1Thomas Partey: The midfielder tailor made for Mikel Arteta by Phil Costa (@_philcosta).

2Thomas Partey: By the numbers from Scott (@oh_that_crab)

3Thomas Partey: Data Viz by @jonollington

I’d also point you in the direction of this excellent Twitter thread by David Cartlidge, this piece in particular:

I’ve always thought the back three we’ve been using has been almost entirely down to expedience rather than it being a true reflection of what Mikel Arteta wants. Even when he does use it, the way we shift players into zones to essentially become a back four in possession is a major indicator of his preference in that regard. I think the arrival of Partey will facilitate a shift to a back four on a more regular basis, perhaps slowly at first when you consider some of the fixtures we have coming up after the Interlull, but it’s something we’ll see more and more.

There’s a very good question about what our best central defensive pairing is, one that’s not easy to answer beyond the fact it should involve new signing Gabriel and one other, but with so many centre-halves on the books, it’s not as if we don’t have options. We have the first choice full backs to make it work too, so it’s something I’m looking forward to seeing over the coming weeks and months. Like many of you, I would have loved to see a player like Aouar arrive, someone else to take on some of the creative burden, but a back four allows us to play with an extra player in midfield, and that in itself addresses some of the issues we might have. Imagine a midfield three of Partey, Ceballos and Saka – even Willian playing more centrally, with Pepe starting and contributing more regularly again. It goes some way to addressing that side of things.

The other thing that seems obvious is that the business we’ve done this summer is clearly an attempt to bridge the gap to the top four straight away. Aubameyang’s contract, the addition of Willian to add experience, Partey, even Gabriel to an extent – although signing a 22 year old centre-half could be put more into the bracket of one for the future. What you’d say there is that we’ve needed to improve in that position for a long time, we’ve decided that what we have isn’t sufficient – not even the £15m signing we made in the same position just a few months previously – and tried to sort it out.

When it was all going wrong, the idea of just blowing it all up and starting again, building a fresh young side over a couple of years, was tempting. But it’s one of those things that has layers. It’s easy to say you’ll be ok with an up and down period in terms of results if you can see a definite plan and a way to make progress, but by its very nature football fandom doesn’t align itself with ‘long-term’ very well. You have a couple of games a week, every week, and those are what drives opinions, reactions, and all the rest. Don’t try and tell someone about the greater good and how it will all work out if you simply give it more time when they’ve seen their team play poorly or lose badly to a big rival. It just doesn’t work.

The financial pressure is obvious too, especially now in this Covid-impacted world we live in. Without fans the money from the Champions League would be like a lottery win, and that has to have been part of the discussion and the strategy at executive level. It requires some risk, something Arteta himself made clear when he spoke about squad building and improvement, but it’s weighing that up against the risk of being left behind by competitors who are investing in their own squads. You might have a great plan for the future, but it’s quite possible that the gap is simply too big to make up by the time it comes to fruition.

So, experience counts, we’ve leaned on that during this transfer window for the most part, and another interesting aspect of that for me is ensuring that the young talent we have benefits from it. As it stands, I don’t think this is a club that can continue to spend big until it gets back into the Champions League, so developing the young players properly – whether that’s for first team action or to ensure their market value increases exponentially because of that – is going to be an important part of Arteta’s work.

All in all though, I feel more confident about our chances of competing for the top four after the Partey arrival, and what it likely means for the set-up of the team. It’s a shame we don’t get to see him for a couple of weeks because of the Interlull, but there’s a lot of football to play and hopefully he can become instrumental in quick time.

For more on the player, the signing, and all the rest, here’s a bonus Arsecast with myself, Andrew Allen and James. All the news throughout the day on Arseblog News, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more here.


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