Long read: Patten on USA, her return and Little

"I've grown in confidence, I've grown physically and I'm definitely ready to prove myself with the professionals now."

Anna Patten is on cloud nine after re-joining her childhood club but don't be mistaken, her feet are still firmly grounded.

The 21-year-old became our newest arrival when she agreed terms with us this week, and now she cannot wait to write the next chapter in her Arsenal career.

An academy graduate, Patten first joined us when she was 12 and, alongside Lotte Wubben-Moy, progressed through our academy ranks to lift two FA Youth Cups (2015 and 2016) before making her first-team debut in our 10-0 FA Cup win over Tottenham Hotspur back in March 2017.

Eight more senior appearances would follow with the youngster featuring in every single one of our FA Women's Super League Spring Series games, ending her first spell at the club with an enviable record of nine first-team games played, no games lost.

Looking to broaden her horizons off the pitch while continuing her rapid development on it, Patten seized the opportunity to trade Harpenden for Tallahassee in the summer of 2017, to study for a degree in sociology at Florida State.

And despite switching environments and footballing cultures, the then-18-year-old continued to thrive. Patten recorded two assists and seven clean sheets in 18 freshman appearances before establishing herself as a regular in her sophomore year, with 16 clean sheets, four goals and two assists in just 23 games.

After two years in Florida, the defender's education took her some 500 miles north to Columbia, where she linked up with the South Carolina Gamecocks and that's where the individual awards started flooding in.

Patten was named Boilermaker Challenge Cup Defensive MVP after clean sheets against Purdue and DePaul, earned two SEC Defensive Player of the Week awards and was included in the SEC Watch List as well as the All-SEC First Team at the 2020 awards.

So when the highly-sought-after 21-year-old graduated with a degree in sociology at the end of the 2020 college season, she had plenty of suitors lining up to secure her signature.

But there was only one club Patten was interested in joining.

"It's a funny thing because ever since I've left really, I've been coming back and joining the team in training whenever I could," she smiles. "When I'd come home for Christmas or the odd summer, I was able to join the team for training sessions. I feel like I've always been attached to the Arsenal family.

"When I was back during lockdown, it was then that I heard about the interest to re-sign me and obviously I was so excited about that. Then I went back to America, finished off my degree, finished off my season, and from there the conversations kept going. I was so excited to hear they were still interested in signing me.

"It was quite an easy decision, to return home back to Arsenal if I'm honest. The team is full of quality and I couldn't wait to be back. For me, my time had to come to leave America. I'd graduated so it felt right to come back and most of all to come back to Arsenal. To be back and be able to sign for the team really is like a dream come true."

Patten says her decision to cross the Atlantic in the first place was to develop 'as a player and a person', so what's the biggest difference between the Anna that left north London and the Anna that's come back?

"That's a good question," she laughs. "It's so hard to put it down to one thing but I've grown in confidence, I've grown physically as well.

"They're very big on that over in America, so I feel really ready now to compete with professionals - much more so than when I did before I left England. I'm definitely ready to compete and prove myself now with the pros."

A lifelong Gooner, Patten has supported us ever since her uncle took her to witness Thierry Henry equalling Cliff Bastin's league-scoring record against Middlesbrough back in January 2006.

So despite the time difference, the defender always made sure she tuned in to watch our men's and women's teams whenever she could during her time in the States.

"I had to be supporting from wherever I was over there," she begins. "I have always been watching and cheering on the girls in my own way!

"Arsenal love to play, and love to play out from the back as well. That's a big part of how I like to play football as well. I've always been someone who likes to get on the ball, pass it, create chances from the back.

"You can see that in the way Arsenal play right now. Even when they're put under lots of pressure, the aim is still to play out from the back. I think that's a really big part of my game as well. I'm glad to be joining a team that suits my strengths."

Not only that, Patten will be joining a team full of familiar faces, too.

Wubben-Moy made a similar journey over the summer when she swapped North Carolina for north London, and even though Patten is going to miss the friends she made across the pond, she cannot wait to reunite with one of her oldest team-mates.

"It was hard to leave America because it was such an amazing experience out there, especially with all the people that I formed so many good relationships with," she explains.

"It's hard saying goodbye to that but I think my time had come and I was so proud of everything I achieved out there. It was bittersweet because it had come to an end, but it's so exciting to now take the next step in my career and return home.

"I think Lotte and I always kind of had that idea of coming back here, both of us. We're big Arsenal fans and we've been playing together since we were so young.

'I was so happy for her when she made the decision to come back to Arsenal, and deep down we were both delighted because I think she knew that I would probably come back to Arsenal as well. It's an exciting time to be back and to be able to train with her again."

It also hints at what our back line could look like for many years to come, with Patten and Wubben-Moy lining up alongside fellow academy graduate Leah Williamson. Three lifelong Gooners defending the Arsenal goal and the Arsenal badge.

"It would be amazing," Patten laughs. "Girls who have been all the way through the age groups at Arsenal. It's a real group of OGs back there!"

But it's not just the Centre of Excellence group that our new defender is keen to link up with.

"I trained a bit with Kim before I left but she was obviously injured during that time, so I think she's definitely a player I'm so excited to play against," Patten says.

"It's pretty hard to do that, obviously, because it feels like the ball is actually glued to her foot! It's so hard to defend against her but not only that, she's such a professional and an amazing player. I'm so excited to train with her.

"Then of course I've got to say Vivianne Miedema as well because she's just the GOAT. Defending against her in training is definitely going to be a challenge!

"It's so exciting and also at points may be a little bit embarrassing if she drops me once or twice in training! I can't wait to train with all the amazing players at Arsenal and I really hope it will help me to raise my standard."

Trying to stop Little and Miedema scoring in training is certainly an unenviable task. But what about Patten's goals on the pitch? What is the 21-year-old hoping to achieve in the second half of this season?

"To win the league," she says. "To join the team and help them achieve that, I think that's what everyone wants to do and that's a big part of why we play: to win the league and other trophies. My goal is to come in, support the team as best as I can and then hopefully we can do that."

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