It was well publicized that Arsenal spent close to £150m last summer with Benjamin White’s £50m move from Brighton Hove and Albion dominating the headlines. The signings of Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu turned out to be instrumental as they became mainstays in Mikel Arteta’s lineup, but with Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey starting in central midfield, Albert Sambi Lokonga, who was signed for a modest £15.75m, had to wait patiently to cement a place in the Arsenal starting XI.
When Arsenal signed Lokonga from Anderlecht, the club’s DoF, Edu Gaspar, mentioned that there was a lot of interest in the Belgian maestro, and he was a big target for the Gunners, as the club had been tracking him for some time. As at when he was captured by the Gunners, Lokonga was the captain of the Anderlecht team at a tender age, showing his influence on the Belgian outfit. Arteta on the other hand, spoke about his intelligence and maturity on the pitch, touching on how he would like to develop the player to allow him realize his potential.
Sambi Lokonga didn’t have to wait long to get his Arsenal debut, as a Partey injury allowed him to commence the new campaign alongside Xhaka away to Brentford, as the Gunners embarrassingly lost to the Premier League newbies. Lokonga retained his place in the team the very next week, as Arsenal lost yet again, this time in front of their own home fans, to Chelsea. Lokonga found himself on the bench for 90 minutes when the Gunners were destroyed by Manchester City, before the much needed international break.
Partey made his return from injury in the nervy narrow win over Norwich, but Lokonga started alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles in Arsenal’s midfield. He made his domestic cup debut in the routine 3-0 win over Wimbledon but with Xhaka and Partey gaining full fitness, and featuring consistently, Lokonga’s Premier League minutes dropped expectedly.
January 2022 proved a pivotal time for Lokonga and Arsenal, as Partey and Mohamed Elneny departed to Cameroon to represent their respective countries in the African Cup of Nations, while Granit Xhaka struggled with COVID-related fitness issues and suspension. These circumstances saw Lokonga come back into favor with the gaffer.
Lokonga featured in the shambolic loss at the first FA Cup hurdle against Nottingham Forest, then he played in the semifinal double header against Liverpool and would have had an assist, when he created a lovely chance that was wasted by Alexandre Lacazette. Lokonga also played all 90 minutes in the stalemate against Burnley before failing to feature in any match till April 2022, as Arsenal had been knocked out of the domestic competitions he would have gotten some game time.
Following yet another Partey thigh injury which was culminated with an unfortunate Kieran Tierney knee injury that required surgery, Xhaka was drafted as an auxiliary left back in the home game against Brighton, while Lokonga was tasked with the role of protecting the backline which he failed woefully. Arteta reacted to that defeat by redeploying Xhaka alongside Lokonga in central midfield, while Nuno Taveres deputized at left back, but the Gunners lost yet again to a Southampton side that had shipped in six goals from Chelsea in the previous week.
Lokonga lost his place to Mo Elneny for the rest of the Premier League run-in and didn’t feature in the first team till the final day victory against Everton and played for half an hour.
Mo Elneny has signed a contract extension with the club, and Arsenal is heavily linked with a move for Leicester’s Youri Tielemans, which would further derail Lokonga’s chances of playing consistent football this season. Should the Gunners succeed in signing Tielemans (hopefully it wouldn’t be another Raphinha situation), the best option for Lokonga would be secure a loan move elsewhere to continue his fledgling development. Elneny signed an extension for just a year, with an option of two, so the potential exists that this could actually be his final season at the club, allowing Lokonga to be remain as fourth choice central midfielder.
I like the lad and I know that he can get a whole lot better in the future, but he needs to get consistent game time, and sadly, it will not be at Arsenal.
Bonus Reading: Raphin-IN, Raphin-OUT
A proud Arsenal fan with a good sense of humor. Gooner Daily’s blogger. (Follow @goonerdaily)
What Albert is experiencing is all part of his football education, moving to a new country, a more intense football competition, a new Coach, new teammates etc, but he’ll be just fine, he doesn’t need a loan as he’ll get plenty of football in the Europa and League Cups and off of the Arsenal bench, (5 subs)