Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Partey tasked with disrupting Arsenal's ball progression

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.

Figure 1.1 - Illustration of the difference between Thomas Partey rotating back to play at RB (left) vs. RCB (right).

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.

Figure 2.1 - Thomas Partey moves wide right, leaving an open space central.

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.

Figure 3.1 - Thomas Partey in his normal holding midfield position in front of the back-line. Kai Havertz drops.
Figure 3.2 - Thomas Partey shifts back to RCB as Ben White moves wide.
Figure 4.1 - Martin Ødegaard drops centrally to offer himself for the pass.

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.

Figure 5.1 - Partey wide with Declan Rice carrying the ball in the right half-space.

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.

Figure 6.1 - Passing options with Thomas Partey central.

When Partey remains central, in his normal position as the heart, everything is balanced. Players are equidistant. Constant triangles.

Figure 7.1 - Thomas Partey in the way of Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka, and Ben White triangle.

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.

Figure 8.1 - Thomas Partey central to complete the triangle between him, Bukayo Saka, and Ben White.
Figure 8.2 - Bukayo Saka has the space to cut inside and has the option to play the simple pass to Thomas Partey or Martin Ødegaard.

When Partey stays central, Bukayo Saka has the space to drive inside. He’s 1v1; Partey doesn’t drag defenders towards him.

Figure 9.1 - Ben White overlaps Bukayo Saka.

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.

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