Arsenal’s £140m summer transfer spell was a huge display of confidence in manager Mikel Arteta’s rule, but it was also part of a gamble that started much earlier. This latest recruitment drive was the result of a promise of investment by Kroenke Sports Enterprises; Their response was to fan protests arising from the club’s involvement in the failed European League project, which sparked long-standing resentment at their presiding over the gradual, but continuing, decline in the club’s standing in the Premier League. Kroenkes was not so stingy as some argue.
Although the team would undoubtedly have benefited from a larger budget, one of the main issues was the mixed return from the money they spent, most notably the club’s record spending of £72m on Nicolas Pepe in 2019.
Then-manager Unai Emery claimed he would prefer to sign Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, but various circumstances – including Lille’s willingness to accept fees in installments – led to Pepe being chased instead. And so when Arteta approached Kroenex directly to find the £45m needed to sign Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid just a year later, they had a huge decision to make.
It was a simple deal given that Partey had a release clause, but Atletico demanded that the full amount be paid up front. Sources claim Arsenal have been tracking Partey for several years, with former scout Francis Kajigao first identifying the midfielder in 2014 during a loan spell at another La Liga team, Almeria. Although a potential transfer was briefly discussed in 2019, Emery believes the priorities lie elsewhere in rebuilding the team, but this time, Arteta was adamant that Barty be the key element in his midfield, an area of the pitch that was Arsenal are usually weak.
Despite knowing that the blanket purchase clause could be activated at any time, Gunners did so only on the morning of the deadline after Kroenkes accepted Arteta’s recommendation, jointly with Technical Director Edu.
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Injuries limited Partey’s impact during his first season, and fears grew that the 2021-22 season could follow a similar frustrating trajectory in August when he missed Arsenal’s first three games with an ankle problem. All three ended in defeat. Since his return, Arsenal have won four, drawn one and kept four clean sheets in all competitions.
These remain formative days in rebuilding Arteta, but arguably Partey’s contribution will be the most important factor determining its success.
There is a quiet insistence about Barty that Arteta hopes to become the embodiment of the ‘new Arsenal’. Sources told ESPN that he initially had difficulty settling in London after moving from Madrid, and that a layoff season made his move more complicated. He had a thigh injury in November, a thigh injury in December and January, and a hamstring problem in February. Sources tell ESPN that Barty has responded to each injury relapse by intent on doing extra work in the gym in addition to his regular training program.
Barty focused on leg work in particular, focusing on strengthening his muscles to avoid recurring injuries, and considered the ankle problem he suffered in pre-season to be a mere misfortune given that it came after an excessive interference by Ruben Loftus-Cheek in a friendly match against Chelsea. However, sources claim that the midfielder has also modified his diet. Although not a vegetarian, Barty has committed to reducing the occasional junk food he allows himself.
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Although Partey enjoys entertaining his 159,9K followers on TikTok, unlike many of his teammates, he is not a gamer, but more interested in reading books and playing card games. Sources also claim that he became particularly close to Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli, and Martin Odegaard.
Partey was born in Ghana in the town of Odumase Krobo and the common heritage was the core of his relationship with Nketiah, who was born in London to Ghanaian parents. Martinelli and Barty are often seen sharing jokes together, with sources saying they hit her almost instantly because of their similar sense of humor.
Barty admires Odegaard’s style of football, but more importantly the pair helped each other adjust to life in England. Both came from Madrid – Odegaard was on loan from Real Madrid last season before eventually joining a permanent deal worth £34m this summer – and the pair have discussed the differences between Spanish and English football at length. Neither of them have had much opportunity to explore London, but the relaxation of COVID-19 rules offers a little more room in this regard and sources claim that Barty is keen to learn more about the city.
As always, football comes first. Partey completed 90 minutes in the Premier League just 10 times last season, denying Arteta the opportunity to fully integrate the midfield dynamo.
Barty offers the physical presence in midfield that the Gunners have missed for years, nicknamed the “octopus” in Almería “because I stole a lot of balls”. But his passing range and ability to push forward with the ball give him the potential to be a complete midfielder. During the international break in October, Barty turned mid-match into a more offensive role against Zimbabwe in Saturday’s World Cup qualifiers and immediately won the ball high up the field, before firing with a low effort with his right foot into the penalty area only to net his 12th goal. A goal in 33 games to turn the game in favor of Ghana.
His thirteenth goal in the reverse game came three days later, wearing the captain’s armband while Andre Ayew was selected from among the substitutes, with a powerful free kick helping to secure Ghana’s second successive win, leaving them a point behind South Africa in the World Cup finals. Qualifying group with two matches remaining.
Granit Xhaka’s importance to Arteta remains high and the pair are clearly Arteta’s first choice in a 4-2-3-1 form, but it has long been suspected that the Arsenal boss eventually wants to switch to a 4-3-3, on the face of it. Especially to combat the lack of creativity in previous matches against defensive-minded teams.
So Barty’s positioning in the 1-0 win over Burnley on September 18 felt so significant. Published as the only defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation with Xhaka suspended, Barty balanced his defensive duties, including dropping into the backline to help deal with Burnley’s aerial threat, while also enabling Arteta to put pressure on Emile Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are in the starting lineup.
Other players had an impact – Aaron Ramsdale replacing Bernd Leno in goal, Takehiro Tomiyasu’s encouraging start at right-back and Gabriel’s return from injury – but it’s no coincidence that Barty’s return saw a clear improvement in both performances and results. Next Monday’s clash between Arsenal and Crystal Palace will give Barty the opportunity to prove he can become a midfield presence that the Gunners have been missing since Patrick Vieira, the man who will be in the opponent’s training center.
“No Thomas, no Partey,” he said upon arriving at Arsenal, a sentiment on which Arteta bet a great deal of his reputation. “He’s really important because he’s the announcer,” Arteta said last month. “He’s the one who has to read what’s going on and he has to make the rest better.”