When news first broke months ago that Arsenal were interested in Atletico Madrid’s all-round midfielder Thomas Partey, observers probably expected a speedy resolution.
Despite the impact of the coronavirus on the sport and clubs’ finances, there was a feeling that the Gunners had made the Ghana star their primary target and had a solid plan to push the deal over the line. However, in what feels like an age, Mikel Arteta’s troops are still to complete the signing of the accomplished defensive and central midfielder.
Instead, it’s been months of constant rumours and back-and-forth negotiations.
The supposed talks between the clubs has dragged so long that Gooners are probably getting exasperated. When updates surface on social media, the general reaction falls within the “So the news is...there’s no news” bracket. Supporters wanted a swift conclusion but they were always unlikely to get that.
Arsenal, like most clubs, have had their finances hit by the global pandemic and need to be extra thrift in the market given the effect of the coronavirus on their bottom line. The recent sale of dependable goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa could, in theory, help with the move for the West African.
However, the Premier League giants are also interested in Olympique Lyon's leading man Houssem Aouar, who commands a higher fee than the 27-year-old.
Surprisingly, nearly everyone expects the Gunners and Atletico to eventually reach an agreement to an extent that the other scenario isn’t being considered: what if Partey stays at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium this season?
In fairness, the implications for the midfield man are probably more deeply felt than one might think. On the one hand, there’s a temptation to say the Black Star can always make his dream move in 12 months but it’s never that simple as a lot can go on in a year: form and fitness may deteriorate in 12 months or potential suitors may have moved on to other targets.
A loss of motivation, which in some way would affect performances, can also become an issue when a supposed dream move falls through.
Indeed, this was the case for Wilfred Zaha, who dreamed of a transfer to the Emirates Stadium last year. The club, however, opted to splurge on LOSC Lille’s Nicolas Pepe who moved to London Colney for a record £72 million fee.
As a consequence of the failure of that transfer, the Crystal Palace wideman’s form suffered an alarming dip and he never truly reached the heights of previous seasons.
Thus, there has been little interest in the winger this summer, in part down to Covid-19, despite the Eagles’ reported willingness to accept an even lower figure than they demanded last year.
Partey risks falling into a lull himself if a change of scenery from Madrid to North London doesn’t materialise this summer. The feeling with Atletico, especially last season, suggested that Diego Simeone has taken the team as far as he can, and their early-season struggles and meek elimination in the Champions League at the hands of RB Leipzig fed this narrative.
Los Colchoneros were seemingly set for a finish outside the UCL spots for the first time 2011/12 but a strong run of results after football’s restart in June saw them end joint-third on 70 points.
Their eventual haul in 2019/20 was also the lowest that had been accrued in any full season under the fiery Argentine manager. This had been coming, though, as they’d failed to hit the 80-point mark since 2015/16 when they had 88 points.
The fact they gathered 78 the previous year suggests that maybe 2016’s haul was an outlier and an over-performance on their Expected Points, a fact proved right as statistics provided by Understat show Atleti out-performed their XPTS by 15 points in 14/15—the highest in La Liga that year.
This team has been punching above their weight for a while and they now seem to have plateaued, making this summer the perfect time for Partey to depart.
Also, there’s a perception that the Spanish top flight has lost its lustre and appeal in the last few years. Indeed, the indifference from neutrals to the league commencing last week was telling and demonstrated how low the competition’s stock has fallen.
For Partey, the desire to play in a league as popular as the Premier League adds to the lure of wanting a move. Not every observer goes out of their way to see games involving Atletico, a situation that’ll instantly change if a move to English football goes ahead as planned.
Ideally, Arsenal will want to acquire both Aouar and the Ghanaian. However, they may have to settle for just one owing to the situation with their finances.
If they move for the Lyon star instead, then Partey will have to refocus on Atletico and La Liga, frankly where he doesn’t want to be anymore.