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Why Albert Sambi Lokonga is such a key acquisition for Arsenal


Arsenal fans worldwide gathered on social media concerned about Thomas Partey, after he was brought down by Hakim Ziyech in the 31st minute in a preseason friendly against Chelsea as part of the Mind Series tournament before the season starts.

Dr Rajpal Brar or more commonly known to Arsenal fans with the handle @3cbperformance on Twitter is an Arsenal fan who is also a doctor and has analysed the extent of Partey’s injury. It seems that this type of injury will last 4-6 weeks according to Dr Rajpal. So what does this mean for Arsenal’s midfield?

Well, let’s say Thomas Partey’s injury takes a maximum of 6 weeks to recover. That would mean he would miss Arsenal’s domestic games including Brentford, Chelsea, Manchester City & Norwich. A tough start but vital to get right to boost the confidence of the team for the duration of the season. With no starting CM to partner with Granit Xhaka (who now seems to be signing a new contract after his u-turn from Roma), this is where Albert Sambi Lokonga comes in.

Having completed a move from RSC Anderlecht to North London only this summer, it looks like the 21-year-old will be thrown into the gist of things immediately. If impressive, it may be that the Belgian could keep his place in the squad and this is why the perfect opportunity has come at the perfect time.

Coming at a £15m plus some add ons, it is an expensive fee for a young player, despite being the captain of his club at such a young age. Lokonga looks to be utilised as a box-to-box midfielder but has played as a defensive midfielder for most of the 2020/21 campaign for Anderlecht. In 33 matches Sambi has scored 3 goals and set up 2 assists. He is also part of the Red Devils International setup, featuring in the U21s 7 times so far since 2019 when he made his debut aged 19.

So where does Lokonga fit in? We have seen Arteta play various formations in fixtures against differing oppositions from Watford to Milwall to a strong Chelsea side. It doesn’t look like Mikel will start with his desired 433 formation and instead opt for a familiar 4231 that has been seen recently. The 4231 consists of an orthodox backline, two defensive midfielders where Lokonga will step in for Partey as seen in the diagram below, and three CAMS which can change into attacking wingers supporting the one striker. In the two diagrams below, I have displayed how this would work.

The number 23 has performed well so far, looking much better than a struggling Elneny, but a main problem is that the two defensive midfielders have only played one game together. Xhaka and Lokonga are vital to the game plan and need a strong relationship to run the midfield together.

At 21 years of age, it is understandable why Arteta may opt for the more experienced Elneny instead of Lokonga, but Sambi having shown promising signs and Elneny still struggling when playing out from the back. Undoubtedly the right choice as of current would be the Belgian instead of the Egyptian but with big tests against the League Champions and Champions League Champions, it’s up to the first game against Brentford to determine who gets a place for the upcoming run.

Now all the stats have been laid out, let’s get to my opinion. I think that Elneny shows signs of a good midfielder, but struggles a lot in key parts of Arteta’s “unknown” gameplan. Sambi, on the other hand, seems to have been good at getting the ball out and supplying it or at least attempting to play it onto our strikers, which is a completely different problem in itself. However, his only con is he naturally has a lack of confidence when attacking which means there is a lack of creativity, but that is seen and reflected in the whole team countless times as well, so comes as a norm. Finally, I asked on Twitter who they would like to see pair with Granit Xhaka (if you’re not already following, make sure you do @AaronJaffe11 to take part in these polls) and as seen below the majority right now are leading towards Albert Sambi Lokonga.

His introduction to the Arsenal side comes prematurely, but if given the chance could be crucial to how the season goes for the Gunners. The general importance of Albert Sambi Lokonga to Arsenal sometimes goes unnoticed.

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