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…
Having watched Onana on Saturday, that is what i want to see from our no.8. Obviously we could not land Caicedo and most likely speaking to Everton about Onana was difficult given the managerial change and Gordon already jumping ship. With Elneny most likely having played his last match for the club and our other 3 midfielders also the wrong side of 30, we need at least 2 centre midfielders. I am not including him as one of them as they way i see it, Would you sign him today for Arsenal if he wasn’t already ours? For me we need a proper DM to understudy/rival Partey and another box to box/ DLP to do the same for Xhaka. Caceido and Onana would be an awesome combination, alternatively Rice and Tielemans would provide a bit more EPL experience. For all the Eddie love-in, i still see a need for a striker like Vlahovic.
A quicker right back than White would be the icing on the cake, allowing him to understudy Saliba rather than Holding.
Jorginho, Nketiah or Balogun
For Sale/loan/release (2023/24 senior players)
Runarrson, Hilsson, Okonkwo Hein*
Soares, Alebiouso, Rekik, Mari, Trusty, Tavares, Akinola, M.Smith, Maitland-Niles, Lokonga, Pepe, Nketiah or Balogun, Nelson, John-Jules, Lewis, Marquinhos**
** – Two more seasons before
becoming a senior player
* – One more season before becoming a senior player
I”m disappointed that VIeira got sacked. I suspect he was a consideration for Lokonga’s development – he could have had a massive impact on Lokonga’s development, training the kid up in the role that he himself was an undisputed master of.