Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Albert Sambi Lokonga signs: a necessary piece of the rebuild

Morning all.

We made our second signing of the summer yesterday as Albert Sambi Lokonga’s move from Anderlecht was finally confirmed. He’s a 21 year old central midfielder who captained the Belgian side at a relatively young age, arrives with some pedigree and plenty of potential, and Mikel Arteta says:

Albert is a very intelligent player who has shown great maturity in his performances during his development. He has been coached well by Vincent Kompany and his team at Anderlecht. I know Vincent very well and he talks so highly about Albert and the positive impact he had to Anderlecht in recent seasons. We’re confident Albert’s ready for the next stage in his development and we’re looking forward to welcoming a new member to our squad with his quality and presence.

If you want to know a bit about him as a player, check out Phil Costa’s profile piece here, Scott has done a By the numbers on him for Arseblog News, and there’s an accompanying podcast available now over on Patreon.

There were a couple of interesting little snippets from his first official interview. In terms of his position and where he’s best, he reckons it’s a ‘six’, a deep lying midfielder, but he says he can play box to box too. His physical profile is decent, he’s 6′, reads the game well, and crucially – as Phil points out – he looks to get the ball forward a lot. For a team which doesn’t do that as often as we’d like that’s certainly interesting. It’s one of the mooted reasons for our targetting of Ben White too, so we’re beginning to see some hints from signings as to how the manager wants them to affect the team.

He was asked about Mikel Arteta and Edu, and said:

I know that they want to play with a lot of young guys.

Again, that’s evident when you look at the players we’ve been linked most strongly with this summer. We’ve signed two 21 year olds, Ben White is 23, and even someone like Ruben Neves – who feels like more a veteran – is only 24. Add Kieran Tierney (24), Emile Smith Rowe (20), Bukayo Saka (19), Gabriel Martinelli (20) and you’ve got a pretty young core supported by more experienced players like Nicolas Pepe, Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It looks like there’s a plan. How successful it will be remains to be seen, and it’s probably too early to dub it Project Youth II or anything, but you can see that there’s a definite change in tack here.

I know it’s not long ago that we gave a three year deal to a 32 year old and a four year contract to a 28 year old back-up right back. It’s not even that long ago that we brought in ‘senior’ signings like Sokratis or Stephan Lichtsteiner to add squad depth. You have to start learning and doing things different at some point, and this feels like where we are.

Now we’re signing young players with potential, and that’s clearly a better strategy because even if they don’t work out, they retain some value, and you’re not lumbered with someone who is very difficult to shift. The upside is that they fulfil their potential in the red and white of Arsenal, become important and influential first team players and, if it comes down it, valuable assets that can generate profit if you decide to sell. Again, it’s early days, but there’s some encouragement in seeing this.

Back to the new boy, who will wear Sambi 23 on his shirt, and it’s worth pointing out where exactly he is in terms of his development. He suffered a serious knee injury (ACL) during the 2018/19 season which had an impact on the amount of performances he’s made for Anderlecht. He played 78 times for them, and to put that in Arsenal context he lines up with the likes of:

Eddie Nketiah: 65 appearances Arsenal, 19 for Leeds.

Joe Willock: 78 appearances for Arsenal, 14 for Newcastle.

Reiss Nelson: 47 appearances for Arsenal, 29 for Hoffenheim.

So, while he’s clearly a young player with lots of potential (close to call-up for the Belgium squad too), we’ve got him relatively early in his career. He’s got plenty still to learn, and for all his qualities, it feels like his first season in England will be one in which there’s a lot of development. I don’t think this is a guy who is going to come in and start lots of games immediately, but then we thought that about Matteo Guendouzi too, so it’s not completely without precedent.

Rightly, people will say that the two signings we’ve made so far are not nailed on first team starters. They are not players who have arrived to make the first XI instantly better. That’s true, and those are arrivals that obviously still need to happen. However, I suspect that deals for those kinds of players are a little more complex than signing young lads to change the profile of your squad. Hopefully though, those signings aren’t too far away, and the need for the Partey Partner is perhaps the most obvious gap in the team right now.

All the same, if you were calling for Arsenal to do things differently, to stop the obsession with grizzled veterans as a way back to the top four etc etc, the arrivals of Sambi and Tavares should be pleasing. They’re not the most important part of this summer’s transfer window, but they’re still necessary pieces for the rebuild. Let’s hope he can settle in quickly (his English is very good already which is helpful), and hit the ground running when it comes to his Arsenal career. He’s already training with the lads ahead of the trip to Florida this week, and we should see him for the first time in the games in Orlando.

Ok, let’s leave it there. If you haven’t listened already, the new Arsecast Extra is below. In the meantime, take it easy!

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This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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