Who remembers when we signed the Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva?
It was the summer of 2002 and rumours went round that we were about to announce the capture of one of the players from the all-conquering Brazil team that had just won the World Cup, beating Germany in the final in Yokohama, Japan.
Would it be Rivaldo, or Ronaldinho, or Kleberson, or Roberto Carlos or even – if we’re really dreaming – Ronaldo (the original Ronaldo, not the preening show pony of today)?
When the player’s identity was announced, the fan reaction was along the lines of: “Oh, OK. Well, he seems decent.”
That man was, of course, Gilberto Aparecido da Silva.
There was, perhaps, a slight sense of disappointment that we had not secured the signature of one of the more glitzy names from the world champions. By contrast Gilberto was an unshowy performer, perhaps the least “Brazilian” of that entire team.
How callow we were.
Gilberto turned out to be one of the greatest signings of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career.
The man nicknamed “The Invisible Wall” was instrumental in allowing the best Arsenal team of our lifetimes to do what it did, culminating in going through an entire Premier League season unbeaten – a feat which has proved too much even for the most dominant sides of recent years including last season’s Liverpool and this year’s Manchester City.
If there had been no Gilberto there would be no Invincibles – it’s as simple as that. While Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Vieira, Ljungberg and company were doing their spectacular thing, the Brazilian was quietly patrolling the deep midfield area, controlling the middle of the park and breaking up opposition attacks all game long.
When he departed for Panathanaikos in the summer of 2008 we were sad to see him go, but the hole he left behind became bigger and bigger with every season that passed from then on. No matter who we tried in the DM position, no-one could do what Gilberto had done.
Fast forward to today and it’s astonishing to think that even 13 years later Arsenal fans are still discussing our need for a reliable defensive midfielder.
Now, in Thomas Partey, we are starting to hope we have the right man. He is not “another Gilberto” or “another Vieira” but he has the potential to combine elements of both those Arsenal greats and after the North London Derby win he was given the seal of approval by the maestro himself.
Here’s what Gilberto had to say about Partey: “He’s a good player. He’s the type of player Arsenal were missing, I’ve spoken a couple of times about it.
“They have good players in the [central midfield] position but not to sit and give Arsenal the stability they have.
“Look at the game [against Spurs] it was great to see how he managed his game, how he managed that position, helping [team-mates].
“You know what is very important about this particular position? This is a very particular position because not every time you get the credit you deserve.
“That’s okay, it’s fine, because you have to understand that. But this guy, when he understands the position like Partey, look at his game. He made the others a lot better.
“He makes Xhaka look better in the game, he made the defenders look a lot better and comfortable when the ball was against them.
“I think the way he manages games, the way he positions himself, is very important for Arsenal. He is the kind of player Arsenal have needed for quite a long time in my opinion.“
It would be fair to say that Partey has made a sluggish start to his Arsenal career, hampered by injury and by what appears to be potentially a bit of a fitness issue.
But he has shown enough ability to get supporters excited about his potential and these comments from his peerless predecessor merely cement that impression.
Following a football club is all about dreams and right now I am allowing myself to start dreaming that this Arsenal side is close to a turning a corner and becoming a proper team. My hope comes from Tierney and Saka, from Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Odegaard, from Gabriel at the back and, last but by no means least, from Thomas Partey.