As the January transfer window played out there was only one thing on the mind for Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta and his partner in crime, Edu.
That happened to be the signature of Mykhaylo Mudryk, only for a deal to fall through as he joined the Gunners’ London rivals, Chelsea.
As a result, they turned their attention to the central midfield where a number of options were considered.
Declan Rice’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Arsenal before Moises Caicedo was the focus, only for any move to be point-blank refused by Brighton.
The sudden rush to get a deal done had come as a result of an injury to Mohamed Elneny, with Jorginho the eventual solution for those back at Colney.
But what that meant was a loan deal for their only other back up to Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey – a certain Albert Sambi Lokonga.
Does Lokonga have a future at Arsenal?
The Belgian arrived in the summer of 2021 to little fanfare but a certain level of hype.
After all, you don’t make it through the youth ranks of Anderlecht without having some pedigree attached to your name.
That said, his first-team minutes in north London have been restricted severely, so much so that the youngster has only played 39 times since his switch, with just 14 starts in the top flight.
Sadly, the 23-year-old has shown very little quality in those opportunities with Roy Keane notably dubbing Lokonga as a “big concern” following a lacklustre showing in the FA Cup.
That happened to be a substitute appearance against the champions, Manchester City, at the Etihad, where the 6-foot ace failed to sense out danger, was lazy tracking back and didn’t know where to position himself.
Keane was right to label that as an issue, particularly at Lokonga’s age. 23 is still young but at that stage of your career, you need to start showing you have something about you before you get thrown on the scrap heap.
The fact of the matter is that one-cap Belgium international doesn’t come close to making up for the absence of Partey and without regular minutes, he never will do.
That said, he is now starting to thrive out on loan.
How is Lokonga doing on loan at Crystal Palace?
As a result of Lokonga’s naivety and inexperience, the club granted a temporary switch in January.
The destination would be Crystal Palace and who better to learn from than an Arsenal legend in Patrick Vieira?
The Frenchman is always the yardstick at which midfielders are compared to at the Emirates Stadium and arguably they haven’t had anyone as combative or classy as the World Cup winner until Partey.
Lokonga will struggle to ever match up to that quality but he is already having “an absolute whale of a time” at Selhurst Park, as eluded to by the Independent’s Karl Matchett.
He has now started twice in the Premier League since moving across London and against none other than Liverpool, showed why he is so highly rated by those back in Belgium.
Indeed, alongside Cheick Doucoure in central areas, the £15m man looked right at home with a manager who now completely trusts his talent.
Versus Jurgen Klopp’s charges, Lokonga looked like a completely “different player” – as per Arsenal writer Connor Humm – to his days in north London.
During the course of the match, the £50k-per-week earner looked tidy in possession, completing 83% of his passes while winning four fouls as a marker of his ability to make himself a nuisance.
It was in physical battles where the prodigy really thrived, however, contesting in a whopping 16 duels of which he won eight in total (five ground and three aerial).
A truly battle-hardened display from Lokonga, it was been an electric start to his time across the capital, with signs finally starting to appear that he could make it as a Premier League player.
It’s likely the Gunners will try again to sign another midfielder in the summer but in the Belgian, Arteta may well have a cost-effective method of eventually dethroning the likes of Xhaka and Partey.
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