One area that Mikel Arteta will need to look at in the January transfer window is the depth in centre midfield. At the moment Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey are the main starters with Mohamed Elneny being the main back-up. However beyond that, there isn’t much depth and Arteta will be disappointed because the expectation was that Sambi Lokonga would step up to the plate and fill that role. Instead, Arsenal finds themselves with a Sambi Lokonga Dilemma.
An injury to Emile Smith Rowe and with Fabio Viera still adapting to life in England, it was looking likely that Lokonga was going to be the player to fill the gap in midfield when Partey and Xhaka were absent. However the Belgian has done very little in the Europa League and other fixtures to establish his place in the team with Arteta having limited faith in the 23 year-old therefore creating a the Lokonga dilemma for Arteta to solve. The Lokonga dilemma has been further exaggerated with the Belgian contributing to Arsenal’s two defeats this season including the defeat to Manchester United.
Lokonga’s dilemma has been created from a few main problems with one of them being the Belgian being unable to show confidence on the ball and authority off the ball. Lokonga has shown that he is unable to be confident in his pressing or tackling and hasn’t made enough progressive passes to create chances for the attackers ahead of him.
So what is the solution to the Lokonga Dilemma? This article will provide reasons for either keeping him, loaning him out or selling him this January transfer window.
Lokonga Dilemma: Keep
The argument to keep Lokonga is a very simple one as there will be no guarantees that Arsenal will be able to replace him this January. It would be a low risk move that allows Lokonga to continue to learn from players like Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard. In addition to that, Arsenal are still in the Europa League and with the Premier League schedule only intensifying as the season goes on, it’s important that Mikel Arteta has squad depth.
So far in the Europa League, Arteta has been able to rely on Lokonga in the Europa League even if his performance away to PSV showed why the Belgian isn’t a regular starter. That should continue to be the case throughout the spring as Arteta will believe that a top four place will be a guarantee if his side can continue their consistent performances in the Premier League. This competition will provide Lokonga with the ultimate test to see whether he can step up his game and perform under pressure or whether it will expose the Belgian’s inability to adapt to Arteta’s tactics and style of play.
Should Lokonga stay, it’s imperative that the Belgian physically gets stronger and works on his ability to press like Granit Xhaka does or control the midfield like Thomas Partey does. If neither of those things are worked on then it could be a matter of time before he leaves Arsenal and finds another destination. However staying for the rest of the season will not harm either side as Lokonga will improve his development in all areas and Arsenal will have some much needed numbers in midfield heading into the second half of the season.
Lokonga Dilemma: Loan
However should Arsenal find another central midfielder, then loaning Lokonga out may not be a bad option. The Belgian is in need of confidence and playing regularly, week after week may help his confidence and get his match sharpness ready. In terms of the intensity of the league and adapting to English football then a loan move to another Premier League team or a Championship side may be a positive thing for Lokonga’s development. Especially when it comes to boosting his physical qualities, the Championship would be a perfect league for the Belgian to improve and build confidence heading into next season.
However in terms of pressing and the tactical details that Arteta wants Lokonga to implement more consistently, a move to the Bundesliga would be ideal. Germany is the perfect league for the Belgian to learn the art of pressing and learning the midfield qualities needed to become a great box-to-box midfielder. It’s a league that Granit Xhaka benefited from before the Swiss’ move to Germany and it’s a league that Lokonga will benefit from if he wants to make himself an integral part of Arteta’s plans.
The question remains whether Lokonga is a part of Arteta’s long-term plans because if he isn’t then a loan move will do no favours at all. However if Arteta wishes to give Lokonga one more chance next season then a loan move would be an ideal way for the Spaniard to assess the 23 year-old’s progress.
Lokonga Dilemma: Sell
If Arteta doesn’t see Lokonga as part of the Spaniard’s plans though, then it would be a process of looking to sell the Belgian. The 23 year-old hasn’t progressed quick enough since his move from Anderlecht a couple of seasons ago and it may be time for Arsenal to start being ruthless as a football club. If Arteta wants his side to be legitimate title contenders in the next couple of seasons, then these are the type of big decisions he will have to make.
Of course the only problem is if there is any club out there who would be willing to pay a fee to sign Lokonga. The Belgian still has a contract at Arsenal until 2026, so whoever would sign Lokonga would need to pay a huge fee with three and a half years of his contract left. At the moment there are no signs that anyone would pay the type of fee that would tempt Arsenal into selling him so it would be a case of waiting potentially another season before contemplating that type of move.
However time is running out for Lokonga to identify what he wants to be as a midfielder and contribute more to the team as Arsenal will keep a close eye on his development over the next season.
Lokonga Dilemma: Verdict
Selling Lokonga now or even in the summer is looking less likely given how much time he has left on his contract. However time is running out for the Belgian to develop and grow into Arteta’s type of midfield especially with the Gunners having Champions League ambitions for the future. A loan move to the Bundesliga would be the ideal scenario in January as Lokonga needs regular match time in a league that is intense and develops the skill of pressing as well as midfield development.
However there aren’t many suitable replacements for Arsenal to explore in January with the most likely seeing Mikel Arteta recalling Charlie Patino back from Blackpool. Therefore Lokonga will need to use the remainder of the Europa League to stake his claim as to why he is the future of Arsenal’s midfield and why he can be a reliable back-up for Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images