Arsenal visit Manchester City on Saturday, and for the first time in five Premier League trips to Eastlands, they’d be looking to avoid defeat.
Their confidence has never been higher, and it’s not just because they have recently tied down a world-class finisher in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a new bumper deal, or the fact that they’re bringing along some of the most exciting young talents in English football right now. Much of those hopes, if not all, rest on the shoulders of one man (if he plays): Thomas Partey, a player who has never prior pulled on an Arsenal shirt, and who was signed in the final hours of the latest transfer window at great expense.
Uh, scratch that…
Partey was first seen in Arsenal’s colours on Tuesday, a week after his dramatic deadline-day deal was sealed, and not many hours after he had delivered a masterclass for his country, Ghana, in a friendly thrashing of Asian champions and 2022 Fifa World Cup hosts Qatar. But, while he may have promptly departed the national team camp, Partey found bits and pieces of home awaiting him at Arsenal’s London Colney facilities.
There was a handy prop, a Ghana flag, which Partey picked up and tied around the waist in a manner his countrymen would have found rather familiar. Then there was the music: classic highlife tunes — ‘covered’ by excited Ghanaian Gunners — which Partey took in from a screen nearby, singing and shuffling and nodding along as he did. Now, all of that felt very deliberate, a suspicion confirmed by the video with which Arsenal first announced the successful conclusion of their summer pursuit of Partey: generous glimpses of the midfielder in action for the Black Stars, with flashes of the country’s colours — red, yellow, and green — all over.
True, Arsenal absolutely need Partey to fill a huge need in the middle of the park — something he has done so brilliantly for Atletico Madrid in the last few years — but, surely, they also realize just how much of an influence the 27-year-old – for whom, at a fee of £45 million, they broke Ghana’s transfer record – could be in Arsenal’s bid to break new ground and expand their worldwide fanbase, having observed how a similar move had worked a treat for a neighboring Premier League club.
Fifteen years ago, London rivals Chelsea — with the record signing of Michael Essien, another Ghanaian midfield gem — struck gold on this coast. Roman Abramovich’s acquisition of the club in June 2003 created a buzz felt worldwide, while Jose Mourinho’s spectacular check-in at Stamford Bridge a year later and the big spending that followed wowed the watching world some more. Chelsea, from relative obscurity, had emerged and increased their global reach.
Even so, it took the 2005 record purchase of Michael Essien from Olympique Lyon to turn the heads and stir the hearts of most Ghanaian fans — those that weren’t already dedicated to the more popular Manchester United, Arsenal, and even Leeds United — towards Chelsea. Most, courtesy Essien’s remarkable successes at the club, haven’t looked elsewhere since. A year after he left the club, it emerged from a Twitter poll that Chelsea was — by some distance — the most supported Premier League club in Ghana.
Call it what you will — the ‘Essien effect’, maybe? — but Arsenal clearly want some of that capital. They have had Ghanaian players in the past — notably Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Emmanuel Frimpong — but those originally joined Arsenal’s youth ranks, certainly without the sort of fanfare and expectations that Partey arrives with, and never quite made names for themselves with the Black Stars. Mikel Arteta’s first team currently has young Edward Nketiah — of Ghanaian extraction but born in England — yet he is likelier to commit his international future to the Three Lions.
With Partey, Arsenal angles for a stronger grip in Ghana, and in the wider sub-region of West Africa, given the club enjoys its greatest African support in the continent’s northern and eastern parts. The problem, though, is this isn’t 2005; the Premier League is more of a thing in Ghana these days, and nearly every Ghanaian has a club of choice they are generally unwilling to part with.
United have sunk post-2013 but, like Arsenal, their fans have largely stuck around in hope of a turn in fortunes that seemingly never comes. Chelsea retain their numbers, of course, while Mourinho has taken his faithful along to Tottenham Hotspur. Manchester City’s latter-day gains have won them a fair following, and Liverpool’s rise under charismatic Jurgen Klopp has seen the Reds shrug off the ‘old people’s club’ tag.
So, really, there remains little spare allegiance left for Arsenal to scrape. Partey’s presence — and success — would, at best, elevate them from an afterthought to, say, a ‘second love’ for most Ghanaian fans. And for those who already support the club, the matchday experience would promise so much more now.
That, really, is all we can offer… for now.
Ennwai Frimpong — Daily Mail GH