10 games to go – Now it is time to get serious

Morning all. Football is nearly back.

I have come in for a bit of criticism recently for “clickbait blogs”. Any long term readers will know I adhor clickbait.

Other blogs steal readers away from the better blogs out there with titles such as “Arsenal interested in 6′ 5″ striker”. NewsNow most read stories always contains this type of thing. And some “bloggers” have built a career off the back of producing this sort of content.

It has never been for me and whilst it would have earned me a lot of money of the decades, I have never been interested. I earn next to nothing from this blogs. Around $100 a month. They have always been a place fir me to vent, to share my opinion. I do not really care how many read.

What is interesting is those that accused me of clickbait across social media did so without actually clicking the blog.

Who could replace Bukayo Saka at Arsenal was a blog about what sort of player Arsenal need to be looking at as cover for Saka. Who could replace him if he got injured. Or when rested.

FIVE who could replace Saka on Arsenal’s right wing expanded on this blog by discussing who fitted the profile.

We will be buying a right winger this summer, I am sure of it. That man will replace Saka when he is out of the team. So it it wrong to blog about who that will be? No. What is wrong is commenting on a blog without reading.

But that happens a lot. People share their opinion on a blog without ever reading. And it is usually those that want to share a negative opinion.

I blog how I want, in the style I want, sharing the content I want. Don’t want to read it? Fair enough. But do not comment if you have not read.

Anyway, we move on. Football is nearly back. Tomorrow it is Leeds at home.

By the time we kick off, we would have known the result of Manchester City v Liverpool.

At the beginning of the month, we faced a similar situation – City travelled to Newcastle before we faced Bournemouth.

It was one of those weekends where you thought “City might drop points here, and then we have the easy home game”. City won 2-0. We needed that last minute Reiss Nelson winner.

Tomorrow is similar.

Liverpool at home is not an easy game. City could drop points. Meanwhile Leeds at home should be a comfortable victory for Arsenal. But games are won on the pitch, not in a blog.

It will be nice if City to drop points, and we will need them to drop we them to drop 6 or 7 of their last 33 to have a chance. But for now, we just need to concentrate on our own game. And that is against Leeds.

Watch the City Liverpool game, just do not let it affect how you support The Arsenal at 3pm.

On this day in 2001 we lost our Rocky, taken too soon. 

For those too young to remember, he was our Saka, the player from the youth team who gave everything on the pitch with style grace determination and fight.

As always thoughts with his family, friends and The Arsenal family.

Never Forgotten.



What is Albert Sambi Lokonga’s Arsenal future?

During this international break, we have spent a bit of time looking at who could be leaving this summer as Edu and Mikel Arteta strive to improve the squad.

In my blog about an XI that could leave Arsenal, I left one man out. Albert Sambi Lokonga.

Loaned out on deadline day to Crystal Palace, Albert Sambi Lokonga’s Arsenal career looks to be at a crossroads.

Lokonga is clearly a gifted footballer.

Solid on the ball, a good range of short and long passing, a big boy. You can see that he has the attributes to make a very good midfielder. But it has just not worked out at Arsenal.

The writing was perhaps on the wall during the Amazon documentary.

At the breakfast table alongside Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe and Nuno Tavares, Lokonga was being questioned over his mood.

The trio then commented on how Lokonga’s mood had changed since his summer arrival. Lokonga then said: “I was playing!” 

The comment by Lokonga seemed to have slightly irked Nketiah, who responded with: “So what my friend? You think you’re the only man not f***ing playing my friend? Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” 

When not playing, you have two options.

Sulk, blame others, and look for a move out of the club; or get your head down, train hard and put yourself in a position for the coach to pick you.

Nketiah chose the later, got his chance last season and was rewarded with a new contract. He is now a solid option to cover for Gabriel Jesus.

It seems Lokonga failed to take on Nketiah’s advice and continued to sulk. And with a poor attitude came less game time.

In the games he has played for us this season, he looked a passenger. He just lacks an intensity in his play.

The Oxford United game was very telling – we struggled for an hour until he was taken off for Granit Xhaka.

Xhaka’s introduction increased the intensity and pace of the entire team. Within 8 minutes of Lokonga going off, we went from 0-0 to 2-nil up.

Lokonga’s development has suffered since joining us due to a lack of game time. But he has not exactly made a case for Arteta to play him when called upon.

There is clearly a player in there and hopefully the loan deal will well for him.

Whilst on loan at Palace, he has put in some decent performances. But that does not mean he has a future at Arsenal.

Maybe he thrives with guaranteed first team football, in a team that defends deep and with numbers. In a side with less pressure and expectation.

Some of Arteta’s critics (and it is unbelievable that there are still some), will say the manager does not know how to deal with young players. But the development of Bukayo Saka, Jesus, Nketiah, Smith Rowe, Ben White and others under him should dispell that theory.

The fact is, you can not develop every single player. And developing a player also requires that individual to apply themselves. To listen in training, to work hard.

If they fail to do that, then a manager can not do anything.

Arteta has his non-negotiables: respect, commitment, and passion. If a player does not show all 3 traits they will be out the door. Especially if they are a young player who have achieved nothing in the game.

Look at Pep and Joao Cancelo.

Cancelo reportedly began showing a poor attitude since returning to the World Cup, and he was quickly moved on to Bayern Munich. Pep does not tolerate players who do not give 100%. Neither does Arteta. Neither did Sir Alex Ferguson. It is how you build a winning team, and maintain your position at the top.

Lokonga is 24 in October and it is time to kick on. Comparisons can be made with Yaya Toure.

Toure had his famous trial spell at Arsenal and the feeling was he did not have a position. He then went on a journey via Ukraine, Greece and Monaco before arriving at Barcelona as a 24-year-old.

And even after joining Barcelona, he did not really become a dominating central midfielder until he signed for Manchester City at 27-years-old.

He was certainly not “one of the first names on the teamsheet” at Barcelona; often filling in for others in defensive midfield or at centre back.

So maybe it is too early to write off Lokonga.

Next season,will be past the age of a “development loan”, but he still has 3 years left on his contract.

Another 12 month’s out on loan could see him flourish – and Arsenal would expect to get a few milion in loan fees at the same time. If it does not work out, he will still have 2-years left in 2024 and we sell.

18 months from now, Xhaka will be close to 32-years-old and out of contract (although we do have an option to extend for a year).

Sending Lokonga out on loan and keeping Patino as Xhaka’s understudy next season as well could give us two options to replace Xhaka in 2024. And worst case scenario, one will remain as “understudy” to a new number 8.

The door will also be open to selling Lokonga this year.

If Palace stay up, they would probably be interested in securing him permanently. Vincent Kompany’s newly promoted Burnley could also be a destination. A decision need to be made on him in the summer.

A quick note about social media.

Recently some people have Tweeted “I stand with Lokonga”.

Whilst abuse on social media is adhorent, there is a huge difference between abuse and criticism.

Criticism of Lokonga is justified. He has not been good enough. He has not shown the right attitude. The likes of myselves criticising him are clearly not abusing him. So do not pretend he is being abused just so you can get your interactions based on being abnormally positive in support for an underperforming player.

My gut is Lokonga does not have a future at Arsenal. But he will also not command a huge transfer fee, nor is he on big wages. With 3 years, left on his deal, I would not be selling unless a big offer does come in.

If he continues his form for Palace, you can certainly see a clamour of lower half of the table teams being interested…


FIVE who could replace Saka on Arsenal’s right wing

Yesterday, we discussed the type of player we need to sign to cover Bukayo Saka. Today, I try and establish 5 players who could be his cover next season.

We established 5 characteristics his cover needs to have: left footed, U24, technically sound, defensive work rate and versatility.

Not everyone on this list covers all 5 categories, and just because they do not doesn’t mean they should be discounted. Obviously you would want them to cover as many of the 5 points as possible, but someone who does would probably be a first choice player at a top club rather than being happy to be a squad player for us.

Michael Olise

The Crystal Palace player has the potential to be a special player. Just 21-years-old, he glides past players for fun and has a wand of a left foot.

Prior to be fired, Patrick Vieira would also utilise Olise as a number 10.

The concern is, however, is that he does not really have the output that he technique and ability deserve – with just 2 goals and 5 assists this year. But with his tools, he is surely one of those players that would get better plying with better players.

I am not sure about his defensive work rate. Palace do not tend to defend from the front. They stick 7 behind the ball and leave the 3 front men on the half way line ready to spring an attack.

Palace spent around £10m signing him from Reading in 2021. I would expect him to cost £30m+ this summer.

Olise ticks a lot of the boxes, and has that added attribute of Premier League experience.

Ferran Torres

Arsenal were linked with the ex-Man City man in January, despite him only having joined Barcelona 12 months before.

Barca a paid €55m for Torres 12 months ago, but with their well publicised financial problems, they will have to cash in on a few players this summer. This could lead to a bit of a fire sale.

In Torres, Raphina, Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati, Barcelona have a surplus of wingers. Both Gavi and Pedri have also played outwide this season.

If they are looking to sell to raise funds this summer, you feel it will be through selling either Torres or Dembele.

At times for City, Torres looked exciting, but he engineered a move back to Spain due to lack of game time. He has found himself on the bench for much of his Barcelona career. Would he want to continue being a squad player at a top club? Or does he hunger to be a starter, even if it means taking a step down a level?

He is certainly the right age and is technically sound. However he is right footed.

Much of his career, Torres has played on the left wing cutting in on his right. We have Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard to do that. He would not be a like for like replacement for Saka, but would still be a good option.

There are also concerns about his defensive contribution, and many of his good Man City performances came off the bench in games that were already won.

Torres has played left, right and through the middle during his career, so he would be a very versatile option.

Arteta had already left Man City when he joined, so there is not the link that our manager had with Gabriel Jesus and Olesandr Zinchenko.

I think Torres would be an outside bet, but I am not hugely sold on him.

Jarrod Bowen

Not too long ago, there was a debate over who should start for England – Jarrod Bowen or Saka.

The fact people were comparing a then 20-year-old to someone 5-years his senior showed the talent we had in Saka.

Bowen is left footed and works hard for his team. He has played both right wing and throug the middle for West Ham over the years. 12 goals and 10 assists for the Hammers last year shows he would be both the goal scoring and creative output we would need to cover Saka.

If West Ham go down, he might push for a move. And with twins on the way with East London royalty, he will probably not want to venture too far from his London home.

Bowen will be 27 in March, so you have to question whether he would desire the move. Playing second fiddle to Saka would probably end his hopes of adding to his 4 England caps.

But then Bowen has gone from Hereford to Hull City to West Ham, so he might be thinking this is the last chance for him to play for a top, top club. And play Champions League football.

I can not see him going to Newcastle with such a young family. Liverpool do not need any forwards, and Manchester United have cover out wide. Manchester City already have Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden.

That would leave Arsenal and Tottenham.

He would probably be a regular starter for Spurs, whilst he would only be a squad player for us. I guess it then comes down to whether he wants to win trophies…

I would imagine a move for Bowen would be a back-up option for us. And that could mean he moves elsewhere whilst we pursue better, younger targets.

Samuel Iling-Junior

The former Chelsea academy product was born in Islington.

At 16, Samuel Iling-Junior rejected a professional contract with Chelsea and opted to sign for Juvenus on a 3 year contract. That deal was due to expire this summer, but the Italian side secured an extension through to 2025.

A left footed left winger, he has made a few cameo appearances off the bench for Juventus’ first team this season.

Iling-Junior glides past players for fun and has a powerful left foot – although his goal scoring exploits have only been at junior levels thus far.

He looks to have the raw talent to transition to the right wing, where he will be able to cut inside onto his left and fire in shots or inswinging crosses to the far post. But he has a lot to work on.

Iling-Junior reminds me of a young Saka.

When Saka was breaking through, he looked tentative in and around the box. Almost as if he was nervous to put his laces through the ball in case he missed. He has since got over that.

If Iling-Junior grows in confidence, he could become a superb winger and will probably be Saka’s understudy for England for time to come. So can he be Saka’s understudy now?

If we are going to take the risk on someone so raw, we might be best off looking at someone a bit closer to home…


Whenever I write these sort of blogs, I try to find someone from within the squad that could be a viable option. That man is Marquinhos.

The Brazilian signed last summer and is on loan at Norwich City.

Just 19-years-old, he ticks the boxes of right age, and being a left footed right winger. But he is very much a rough diamond.

Marquinhos showed glimpses of his talent in a couple of Europa League games, scoring and assisting against FC Zurich. But this level is way below where we expect to be next season.

His sole Premier League appearance came as a time wasting substitute against Brentford when were were 3-0 up. He also came on against Oxford United in the FA Cup with 8 minutes to go and the game already won.

Four goals and two assists in four Premier League 2 games showed that at 19 he was already too good for that level. Too good for the PL2, not yet good enough for the Premier League, it made sense to send him on loan and he ended up at Norwich.

He was on unused substitute for Norwich for 5 games, which perhaps showed his fitness was not quite at the level to be starting. He then scored and assisted on his debut before being back on the bench.

He started and got sent off in his next game, although that red card was rescinded.

That decision to rescind his red card was at late notice, so Canaries manager David Wagner decided to use him from the bench against Stoke City.

I think he is raw, much rawer than Martinelli when he joined (Gabi’s scored 10 goals in 26 games in his first season).

Marquinhos is a talent, but would I be confident him coming in next year if Saka picked up a long-term injury? Probably not. He could do with a full season on loan at a Premier League side next season.

I guess the question then is can Arteta make do with Saka being covered by Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe, Trossard, Martinelli and Jesus before Marquinhos steps up in 2024? It would be a gamble.

Do you have any other suggestions? comment below.