See How Arsenal’s midfield could line up with Albert Sambi Lokonga
Transfer gossip columns may not be your cup of tea.
And if that’s the case, there’s every reason to think that Arsenal’s potential summer of spending may have passed you by.
So to give you a brief rundown of where we’re at so far, Nuno Tavares is through the Emirates Stadium door and signed, while there’s a whole host of other players linked, tipped or expected to follow suit and move to north London.
One player who has now signed on the dotted line alongside Tavares is Albert Sambi Lokonga. A talented 22-year-old who is more than capable at both ends of the pitch, the Belgian is a supremely confident central midfielder who is ready to showcase what he can do on a grander stage.
He could be set for a starring role, too, with Arsenal’s midfield options significantly diminished following the departures of Dani Ceballos and Martin Odegaard, and the soon-to-be confirmed exit of – or so we’re led to believe – Grant Xhaka to Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
So how could head coach Mikel Arteta be looking to approach this season, and how will Sambi Lokonga be accommodated? Here’s some of the setups at the Spaniard’s disposal.
1. Saka – Sambi Lokonga – Partey – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang
Thomas Partey, Mason Mount
Sambi Lokonga is likely to team up with Thomas Partey in the heart of midfield
The beauty of Sambi Lokonga is that he’s not only a more than competent defensive midfielder, he loves to get forward and use his energy in a box-to-box role.
That could provide Arsenal with a dynamic partnership in central midfield as Thomas Partey is cut from the same cloth. The ability to bounce off each other – Vieira and Petit-esque – could be just what the Gunners need to mix things up, adding support to the creative trio of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
His signing should also allow Arteta to play a back four more often, providing he has enough confidence in his defence.
2. Pepe – Sambi Lokonga – Smith-Rowe – Willock – Aubameyang
Arsenal won’t have as many games to play next season, given they’re not competing in European competition.
But that likely won’t detract Arteta from experimenting, so there could be a return to action at the Emirates for Joe Willock. He was superb towards the back end of last season while on loan at Newcastle, and his abilities could be put to good use if Sambi Lokonga is tasked with sitting deeper.
Out wide, Nicolas Pepe could be an invaluable outset with his pace, allowing Sambi Lokonga to show off his passing range.
3. Saka – Elneny – Sambi Lokonga – Smith Rowe – Aubameyang
Elneny could be a great foil for Sambi Lokonga
If interchanging central midfielders isn’t what Arteta is looking for, picking Mohamed Elneny is probably a good idea.
He’s more than happy to sit at the base of midfield, allowing Sambi Lokonga the licence to roam forward and get into advanced areas alongside Smith Rowe.
Bukayo Saka’s willingness to come deep, and inside, could help connect the passing dots, also allowing Sambi Lokonga to stretch his legs when Arsenal are looking to counter and get into goalscoring positions.
4. Saka – Sambi Lokonga – Partey – Elneny – Pepe
Smith Rowe will need a break at some stage
If Arsenal are under the pump, there’s always the option of playing both Elneny and Partey in deeper withdrawn roles.
Sambi Lokonga isn’t used to being the main creative force at the tip of midfield, but that’s not to say that Arteta won’t look to utilise him in that position and give Smith Rowe – who get a whole lot of game time if he signs a new contract – a bit of a break.
5. Pepe – Sambi Lokonga – Partey – Saka
Aubameyang is hoping for a more prosperous season
There’s no guarantee that Arsenal will ditch playing three at the back, even though they did shore things up during 2020/21.
Playing wing-backs could actually allow the Sambi Lokonga and Partey combination to flourish further, as they will have more of a licence to press forward together and be more incisive with their passing.
One player who will love the idea of more direct passing? Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is under pressure to get back to his goalscoring best.