Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Partey goes on

Morning all, a quick Saturday round-up from me before I begin my favourite pre-travel ritual; ironing clothes before putting them in a holdall where they immediately get creased again. If you see me wandering around in Los Angeles looking a little dishevelled, know that I tried.

Last night, after flying into New York, Mikel Arteta and Alex Zinchenko sat down with the press to preview tonight’s friendly with Manchester United.

It’s a pre-season fixture that used to crop up regularly – five times in 12 years for the Charity / Community Shield in the nineties and early noughties – but, I’m pretty certain this is the first summer showdown since 2004 when we beat them 3-1 in Cardiff, a game memorable for Cesc Fabregas’ mullet and a cracking performance by Jose Antonio Reyes.

I’ve not paid too much attention to United’s summer. From the outside, it feels like it’s been overshadowed by constant takeover talk but they’ve still secured two decent signings in Mason Mount and Andre Onana, both of whom have been linked with us in the recent past. They certainly look like a far more organised unit under Erik ten Hag who led them to a third-place finish in his first season in charge.

Comparing a clash with the Red Devils with the challenge presented by the MLS All-Stars, Arteta said: “Tomorrow’s test will be something very different, against a team that’s used to playing together, and are big rivals for us in the Premier League. It will be amazing, at that stadium, with a full house, incredible atmosphere and it will be a really big test to see where were we are.”

Apparently, the game is a total sellout, which is no mean feat given the MetLife Stadium holds 82,500.

It was interesting listening to Vinai Venkatesham talking on Bloomberg yesterday about Arsenal’s decision to again pick the United States as our pre-season destination.

He said: “The US has become our number one international market and we see that anecdotally. Every time we come to the US, we come every couple of years, we can see the game is growing and we can see Arsenal’s popularity is growing. And we also see it in the numbers. Last season on NBC Sports we had a record audience for Arsenal versus Manchester United, we see our social media following growing really fast, 20 per cent of our retail business is in the US and we played the MLS All-Star game in Washington jam-packed and jam-packed full of Arsenal fans, which was great to see.”

So yeah, basically, it’s all about the Benjamins. Franklin or White, take your pick.

The other big talking about from Arteta’s press conference was Thomas Partey. The Ghanaian arrived late to the training camp in Washington, D.C. but has trained a couple of times and will be in contention to feature against United and Barcelona.

His future at the club has been under a cloud since the Saudi clubs started splashing the cash with Fabrizio Romano reporting in mid-June that there was a ‘concrete chance’ the midfielder could depart this summer. We were subsequently linked with a move for Southampton’s Romeo Lavia as a replacement. While Juventus were pitched as an alternative destination for our midfielder, slowly but surely, the rumours have dissipated.

Arteta basically blew them out of the water with his latest comments: “Thomas Partey is a super important player for us and for me and we want him to be in the team, that’s for sure.”

Asked if he expected the 30-year-old to stay, he delivered a one-word reply of “yes” and then added: “Every time I spoke to him, every time I’ve had conversations with him, he’s wanted to stay with us, so there’s nothing there at all.”

Clearly, the arrival of Declan Rice complicates Partey’s circumstances at Arsenal but the boss is certain the two can be paired on the pitch while challenging each other off it.

He added: “Yeah, they can play together and that was in my plans. If you want to improve the squad and have more quality, we need players that can play together, but we need players in the same position that have to fight for their places. It’s something that we haven’t had over the last few years and we wanted to improve that, and that’s why we brought Declan as well.”

The way Partey’s form fell off a cliff in the closing stages of last season has definitely influenced the way some people view him. I’m almost certain he was carrying an injury of some sort between March and May and his lot wasn’t much helped by the loss of William Saliba behind him. Left exposed, he looked leggy and that was mirrored in the team as a whole.

If he stays fit, there’s no doubt Partey will be useful if we’re looking for variety in our game and to challenge across four fronts, including the Champions League.

“Our Plan A1, A2 and A3, that’s how you want to look at it,” said Arteta about the potential for different systems.

“We are looking at options, training different options and you have to understand that sometimes you have to leave players to see. Because when you see them training, when you see how they connect with each other, they give you a lot of information, it doesn’t have to be all the time.”

Apropos of nothing, it’s just occurred to me that our three choices in the centre of the park will have won the Champions League (Jorginho, 2021), Europa League (Party, 2018) and Europa Conference League (Rice, 2023) in relatively quick succession.

Obviously, there’s a long time left in the summer window and a huge offer could change the minds of the player and club but for now, it looks as though Partey is part of our future.

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Bringing the ‘drama’ of the transfer market into sharp perspective, Zinchenko took the opportunity to address his US audience on the war in Ukraine and his efforts to raise money and awareness of his compatriots’ plight.

In conjunction with his national team manager, Andrey Shevchenko, the 26-year-old has organised a high-profile charity match ‘Game4Ukraine’ which will take place at Stamford Bridge, the day before Arsenal’s Community Shield match with Manchester City. It sounds as though Zinny has been given special dispensation to take part although he won’t be allowed to throw himself into any tackles.

On why he’s organised the match, he said: “I just want to look in my daughter’s eyes and just say: ‘look, your mother and I were trying to do our best to help people, to help our country.’ Obviously, me using football which is the best sport in the world to represent our country in the best way. There’s this kind of event that is coming soon with all of the ex-players and legends across the world, it’s so important not to just have the target of raising funds to rebuild parts of Ukraine but it’s also our powerful message to the rest of the world, especially for all Ukrainian people who are staying there and fighting for their independence, we want to say that we’re behind them and make sure they’re not alone.”

Loads of ex-Arsenal players are set to take part in Game4Ukraine, including Robert Pires, Bacary Sagna, Jens Lehmann, Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Gael Clichy and Oleg ‘the Horse’ Luzhny. Arsene Wenger is also set to manage the Yellow team. You can buy your tickets here.

Right, that’s me done…the iron is calling.

I’ll be on the plane to LA when the United match takes place but Lewis Ambrose will be here in the morning (and throughout next week) to report back on what happened. A big thank you to him!

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