Players need to play football.
It is unreasonable to expect a player come in for 1 game a month and put in a consistent, high level performance. Most players usually need regular game time to get up to speed, get in their grove.
And game time is even more important for young players.
Over the years I have lost count on the amount of players that have failed to transition from highly rated youngster into top senior pro. The often fail to progress due to a lack of game time.
I was always a bit reluctant to go to heavy on the crticism of Albert Sambi Lokonga.
Prior to joining us, Lokonga had been playing week week out in the Belgium Pro League, almost always playing 90 minutes. Consistent play time saw him grow into one of the most talented young midfielders in Europe.
He then joined Arsenal.
In his first 6 months at the club, he played fairly regularly. Lokonga played 13 of the first 13 league games of the 2021/22 season, starting 9.
He looked a good player. A decent signing. The talent was their even if he was still raw. Then the game time dried up.
Of the next 15 league games, he played 9 minutes against Southampton and made a single start against Burnley. He would make a further 2 starts in the final 10 league games of the season, starting twice.
With us not in Europe and out of the FA Cup early, his game time was severely restricted in the 2nd half of the season. Only really coming when Thomas Partey picked up an injury.
This season the trend continued.
He started just two league game’s, and made further cameo appearances of 1, 2, 12 and 17 minutes. There was just no consistency and it is no surprise he began to go backwards as a player.
He has also been trying to learn new(ish) position.
For most of his time in Belgium, he played as an 8, with the freedom to drift forward and influence the game knowing he had someone else behind him.
When he was asked to play deeper, it was usually as a 2 man defensive midfield.
For Arsenal, he was being asked to play as a single pivot defensive midfielder. Doing all the work and allowing others to thrive going forward.
It is one of those positions that you grow into during a career, and to do so you need game time. Lokonga has not hasd that.
Now before some people start the “Arteta can not develop young players” BS, Lokonga has been kept out of the team by Partey; the Ghanaian has been the best defensive midfielder in the league this season.
Arsenal are in a title race this season and Arteta could not afford to try and develop someone so raw.
Everytime Lokonga played, he looked confused. Like he did not know how to play football. But that had to be expected due to how little football he played and not having a “senior pro” next to him to talk his way through.
At that single defensive midfielder, he had to do the job himself. Whereas he probably would have thrived in a 2-man defensive midfield alongside someone like Jorginho.
The loan move to Crystal Palace was a big one for him.
At 23, I felt a a “development loan” might have passed him by. But then you also had to remember that at 23 Yaya Toure was still playing in Greece.
Crystal Palace have eased him into the first team. A few minutes off the bench on debut, followed by more minutes off the bench in his second game. A start and an hour of game time in his 3rd game before completing 90 minutes.
It is a commonly used method for integratting a new player into the first team.
His performance against Liverpool drew huge praise from Palace fans, who demanded their owners to “pay Arsenal what they want” for Lokonga.
He is already benefiting from that bit more consistent play time, at a lower stress level.
Another huge benefit is Palace play with a 2, meaning that he only needs to focus on covering his half of the pitch. The impressive Cheick Doucouré does the job on the other side.
I would now expect Lokonga to play consistently alongside Doucouré between now and the end of the season, and we will see him grow as a result.
The question is then what do we do with him on his return?
With a defensive midfielder top of the list, Lokonga could be relegated to 3rd choice (unless we sell Partey). This could be 4th choice if we also include Jorginho. Lokonga would be back to “hardly playing” and, at the age of 24, at risk of his career going the same way as Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
I look forward to watching Lokonga progressing at Palace.
There has always been a good player there and he will either return to us ready and hungry to fight it out, or we should be able to sell him for a profit
Another Arsenal man that played well on loan at the weekend was Marquinhos.
The Brazilian falls under the category of “quality young player, needs game time”.
Not every player can be Bukayo Saka – burst o nthe scene as a teenager and remain there.
For many, between the ages of 18 and 21 it is all about getting game time and proving yourself. That is usually out on loan.
Emile Smith Rowe grew from talented kid to Arsenal first team squad ready during a loan spell at Huddersfield Town. Charlie Patino is showing similar signs whilst on loan at Blackpool.
At the weekend, Marquinhos scored and assists as Norwich City beat Cardiff City 2-0.
It was an impressive debut for the teenager.
Whilst I will not go OTT over him – he did not play the previous 5 games for Norwich as they bought him up to fitness – it is impossible to not stand up and take note when a player has that sort of debut.
It is the second time this season he has scored and assisted on debut – having also achieved it for Arsenal against FC Zurich in the Europa League.
Marquinhos has played just a sinlge minute of Premier League football for us. He started twice in the Europa League and once in the League Cup.
He showed his talent in a few games in the Premier League 2, with 4 goals and 2 assists in 5 appearances.
Quite clearly too good for that level, but not yet good enough to come in for Saka, it was a good decision to send him out on loan for the second half of the season. It is now up to him.
If he stars in the Championship, Edu and his team might decide that a new right winger is not needed. That a combination of Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Leandro Trossard, Smith Rowe and Marquinhos is more than enough attacking wide options.
Being left footed, Marquinhos would then be in a position to be Saka’s like for like replacement.
There is still a long way to go for him, and we should not get to oexcited after a single performance. But like with Lokonga there is a player there. And unlike Lokonga, he plays in a position where we are desperate to make a signing.
Can I see Marquinhos being Saka’s understudy next year? Yes.
It would be good to keep an eye on Lokonga and Marquinhos as the season progresses and I hope both players continue the level of performance they showed at the weekend.
Their progression will be a positive for Arsenal, even if that does result in us maximising their transfer value and cashing in!