The Ghanaian International won the ball back more than anyone else on the pitch in Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Manchester United on Sunday – their first win at a ‘big six’ rival in 29 games. His commendable efforts at the center of the park impressed everyone.  With Sky Sports pundit and ex-England midfielder Jamie Redknapp calling the 27-year-old “a midfield player who can do everything”, while Roy Keane compared him to Gunners legend Patrick Vieira. Meanwhile, he has already been tagged as the “number one” signing of the summer transfer window by Paul Merson, who “can’t believe” Arsenal managed to land the midfielder.

“When you talk about signings in the summer, he’s got to be number one. I cannot believe, without being horrible here, that Arsenal got him. I don’t mean that in a horrible way, they’re all crying out for it – I know Manchester United are top-heavy and they’ve got Fred, McTominay and Matic, but they haven’t got a Partey,” said Merson who played alongside Vieira in the final year of his Highbury career in 1996/97, highlighted the difference the Ghana international has already made at his new club, after joining from Atletico Madrid on Transfer Deadline Day last month.

Merson further added, “When you’re talking about holding midfield players and you want discipline, there’s no better place for discipline than Atletico Madrid. They play the ultimate disciplined way. They can go away and shut up shop, and then other days they can go and attack teams. He’s a massive part of that.”

Thomas Partey exhibited his talent in Atletico Madrid as well, but in La Liga, he could not garner enough attention like today because there were other beats in the midfield and upfront of Diego Simeone’s team, who hogged the limelight. But Partey’s displays had never gone unnoticed by Simeone and the experts, who consistently praised his gallant efforts as a tough and skillful defensive midfielder while playing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Right now, easily, he is the best defensive midfielder in the business, and in North London, he is a star

The early days

Born in Krobo Odumase, Thomas was a product of local Odometah’s youth ranks. He signed with Atletico Madrid in 2011 and was subsequently moved to the reserves a year later. In 2013, Thomas was called up to the main squad for the match against Real Sociedad. However, he remained unused in the eventual 0–1 home defeat.

A few months later he was loaned to Mallorca, freshly relegated to the second level. IN August 2013, he made his professional debut, in a 0–4 away defeat against Sabadell. Thomas scored his first professional goal on 15 September, netting his side’s second of a 2–2 draw at Hercules.

In 2014, Thomas joined La Liga side, Almeria, on a loan. He made his debut by starting in a 1–1 home draw against Espanyol. Thomas scored his first goal in the main category of Spanish football in 2015, netting a brace in a 3–0 home win against Granada.

He made his first-team debut for Atletico Madrid in November 2015, replacing Luciano Vietto in a 1–0 home win against Espanyol. In 2016, he scored his first league goal for the club, netting the game’s only strike in a home success over Levante. Five months later he played in the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, replacing Koke in the 116th minute as his side lost on penalties.

Thomas signed a contract extension with Atletico Madrid through 2022 in 2017. On October 31, he scored his first European goal with a long-range strike to equalize at home to Qarabag in a 1–1 draw in the Champions League group game; he became the first African to score in the competition for Atletico.

Following his impressive performances for the club, he was rewarded with another contract in 2018, this time until 2023. On May 16, he played in the 2018 UEFA Europa League Final, as his side won 3–0 against Marseille.

In 2019, Thomas came on as a late substitute and netted the match-winner in the last minute of the game, as Atlético came back from 2–0 down to win the game by 3–2 against Eibar.

He marked his 100th La Liga appearance for Atletico Madrid with a man-of-the-match performance in a 0–0 draw against Real Madrid in the Madrid Derby four weeks later.

In May 2016, Thomas was called up for the first time to the Ghana national team by manager Avram Grant, ahead of a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualification match against Mauritius. He made his debut on June 5, 2016, replacing Frank Acheampong for the final 11 minutes of a 2–0 away win that booked the Black Stars’ position in the finals.

In 2017, Thomas scored his first international hat-trick in a 5–1 win against Congo in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualification.

Thomas was chosen in Kwesi Appiah’s 23-man squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. In their last group game, he scored in a 2–0 win over Guinea-Bissau at the Suez Stadium as the Black Stars topped their group.

He netted in the penalty shootout at the end of the last-16 game against Tunisia on 8 July, though his team was eliminated.

Thomas won Ghana Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019. Ahead of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, as well for qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Thomas was named Ghana’s vice-captain.

Why Arteta wanted Thomas Partey?

Thomas Partey has been a transfer target for Arsenal since the time of Unai Emery a year ago.

Arsenal had Elneny, Ceballos, and Xhaka in the midfield, who plays in a similar position as Thomas.

But all of them have not been able to play their roles according to the expectation of Arteta, who was searching for a complete package.

Ceballos and Elneny are able to dictate the game – carry and distribute the ball from the back to the final third and are also very active during pressing, but are not very strong to shut down the opposition defensively.

On the other hand, Granit Xhaka is quite capable of stopping the opponents and closing down spaces but lacks dynamism with the ball and press and habituated to commit unnecessary fouls. Moreover, his tackle timing and decision making are nowhere near the best.

Arteta noticed that Thomas would deliver him the all-in-one package.

Firstly, he is strongly built and disciplined. Thomas is not only sound technically, but brings a lot of versatility in the midfield. He is generally a defensive midfielder but he offers everything that a box-to-box midfielder will do. Thomas had also played as a right-back and a right center-back in his career. He is calm and strong with the ball at his feet and he can easily change the flow of the game with his line-breaking progressive passes.

Partey’s aggression leads to winning the ball a lot of times in the deeper areas as well as in the final third while pressing. His body language and physical strength is something the opponents will fear. He has a good shooting range and well-equipped in using both the right and left foot.

Another special ability of Thomas is that he is a great leader on the pitch and can motivate his teammates when the team is under pressure.

On October 5, 2020, Arsenal announced the signing of Thomas on a long-term contract, after activating his £45 million (€50 million) release clause with Atletico Madrid. He was given the number 18 shirt, which had been vacated by Nacho Monreal the previous season.

Upon signing, Partey stated his desire to help Arsenal “back where [they] belong”, describing his decision to move is based on “[wanting] to experience new challenges”, while also crediting the transfer to manager Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu.

He made his debut for Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League against SK Rapid Wien on October 22, 2020.

In the Premier League, he has been a sensation after playing just 3 matches. In the big match against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Won possession a game-high 11 times (including 4 tackles), made a team-high 79 touches, completed a game-high 3 dribbles (after attempting 4), and completed a game-high 93% of his (57) passes.

Overall, he has 67% tackle success with 15 recoveries and 15 duels-won.

Arteta wanted dynamism in the midfield and Thomas is delivering that.