Partey tasked with disrupting Arsenal's ball progression
August 13, 2023
August 13, 2023 — On paper, the difference between Thomas Partey playing at right-back versus right center-back is small, but in practice, it impedes Arsenal’s ability to progress the ball into the final third.
I don’t blame Thomas Partey; he played well. I blame Arsenal for tasking him with a wider role that limits their effectiveness. He got in the way, and his movement wide isolated the midfield.
Partey is wide right, leaving a vacant space centrally. This forces Declan Rice to play on an island with no outlet. His only simple passing options are backwards. Nottingham Forest is doing a good job at remaining compact, making it impossible to penetrate through to Arsenal’s front-line if Rice were to receive the ball.
When Partey moves back to right center-back, that allows Ben White to move wide. White can get further forward and combine with Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard on their well-drilled right-wing triangle.
Kai Havertz and Martin Ødegaard drop into space to check for the pass. There’s a constant forward option.
When Partey is wide right, the entire midfield then needs to shift over to offer themselves for the pass, but the distances are always too large. It’s a constant game of catch up to shift the midfield to accommodate for the loss of Partey in the central position.
This imbalance in the distance makes it difficult to maintain fluidity. Every second pass has to be delayed because they need to wait for the next player to drop in front of a cover shadow.
When Partey remains central, in his normal position as the heart, everything is balanced. Players are equidistant. Constant triangles.
Partey wide puts him in the way. You don’t want to disrupt this partnership between Saka, Ødegaard, and White. He’s serving no purpose standing in the way of White when Saka has the ball. And he not only gets in the way, but he also drags defenders towards Saka.
When Partey stays central, Bukayo Saka has the space to drive inside. He’s 1v1; Partey doesn’t drag defenders towards him.
Partey central then gives Ben White the freedom to get forward and do his patented overlap with Bukayo Saka that they used so well to unlock and overload left-backs all last season.
Arsenal did everything right yesterday except for this strange move to play Thomas Partey wide on the right.
- They didn’t start Gabriel, allowing them to add one extra midfielder so that they could switch to a back-three.
- Kai Havertz was playing on higher on both the left and right, in front of Martin Ødegaard, at times, where he belongs.
- Declan Rice was used outside of Jurrien Timber, but if Rice moved inside, Timber made sure to get up the wing to offer the forward pass.
This move to have Partey wide was too defensive. It was overly complicated and created a problem. I’m not sure what problem it was meant to solve. Maybe they wanted to control the outside of the pitch, but without the correct distances to quickly connect play, it made chances harder to manufacture.
My suggestion would be to not do that again. Have the holding midfielder move back into the center-back position and let the outside center-backs move wide into space. They almost had it.