Ian Wright hopes to see Thomas Partey in Arsenal’s starting XI at Manchester City this weekend and says the midfielder has the ability to ‘progress the ball’ and unlock the door for the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in attack.
Mikel Arteta made it clear he was keen to add strength to his midfield options at the start of the summer and identified Lyon’s Houssem Aouar and Atletico Madrid’s Partey as his two top targets for the new season.
The Gunners were priced out of a deal for Aouar – with Lyon demanding £54million for the Frenchman – and their hopes of landing Partey also looked dead in the water with just hours remaining of the transfer window.
However, Arsenal triggered a £45m release clause in Partey’s contract at Atleti on deadline day and the Ghana international could be thrown straight in at the deep end at the Etihad on Saturday afternoon.
Wright has been a vocal supporter of Arteta ever since the Spaniard took charge last December and is encouraged by the progress made on the pitch over the last few months, as well as the club’s business in this summer’s transfer market.
And the legendary former Arsenal striker feels Partey will prove to be far more than just a ‘destroyer’ in midfield.
‘William Saliba is somebody that we’re hoping will kick on. He’s obviously not ready but we’ve seen Gabriel [Magalhaes] come in at centre-half and he’s very good,’ Wright said on Optus Sport’s The Kelly & Wrighty Show.
‘We’ve been very fortunate that [Bukayo] Saka’s emergence through the youth team has just been magnificent.
‘And I think when you look at the Thomas Partey signing, it’s the kind of signing where that’s who we wanted.
‘We’re not talking about a midfielder where people may feel is just a stopper and a destroyer and then pass the ball to the next man. This guy can progress the ball.
‘And the problem that Arsenal have had is that, as well as Dani Ceballos can play on the ball and as well as [Granit] Xhaka produces nice passes, they don’t progress it. And that’s what Thomas Partey will do.
‘He’ll get the ball into nice areas, he can run with the ball and pass the ball and hopefully he can activate the right-hand side just as much as Arsenal’s left-hand side.
‘What Mikel Arteta wants to do – and, yes, they do play to play counter-attacking because at the end of the day we have to stay deep because we’ve got the pace up front to hurt teams – but now you get a midfielder where we can say: “If we win it, we can be a little more constructive”.
‘Because you can’t have a player like Aubameyang scoring two goals in one game and then in another game he’s totally isolated. So you’ve got a midfielder now who can, alongside someone like Willian and hopefully [Nicolas] Pepe will continue to get better, people who can create further forward up the pitch.’
Wright continued: ‘The thing with him having to play at Atletico Madrid is that, yes, he’s had to play a different kind of way but I think he was actually suppressed at Atletico Madrid because of the kind of midfielder he is and I think people may feel he’s a different kind of player and that’s why they might think he’s just one of those destroyers.
‘He’s totally the opposite and that’s what I’m excited to see from him.’
Wright opted for summer arrival Willian over Pepe as he picked his team to take on City (above) but claimed the Ivorian was pushing hard for a place in Arteta’s starting XI.
‘I’d love to this team because I think that starting XI playing at the top of their game, maybe Pepe could take Willian’s place if he continues his form, but you look at that left side it’s awesome, natural.
‘Those three guys there, Xhaka, Saka and [Kieran] Tierney are all left-footed so there’s a natural balance there and Aubameyang coming in off the left.
‘You’ve got Willian, Partey will be coming through, Gabriel, with the experience of David Luiz there, Hector Bellerin is playing some of his best football.
‘I’m really pleased to see him back to something like we know how good he is and I think [Cedric] Soares is maybe pushing him and that’s a good thing.
‘That, for me, is Arsenal’s strongest team, maybe with Pepe in it.’
Wright is confident the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette will soon be reaping the rewards once Partey gets himself settled at Arsenal.
‘I think Partey completed 54 take-ons last season and I think Arsenal’s best player was Ceballos with 27,’ he said.
‘So if he could get anywhere near those numbers then you’re going be creating a lot more for the guys up front.
‘You don’t want to see Lacazette coming too deep, you want to see them stretching the opposition teams, giving space to people like Partey to go and operate in.
‘Then you’ve got people like Aubameyang coming in and maybe getting those passes through because Thomas Partey has got that about him.’
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