Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Europa League final : Lokonga to leave : Goalkeeper linked


I enjoyed last night’s Europa League final between Atalanta and Bayer Leverkusen, not because it was a brilliant game, but because it was just a game of football I could watch and not care one way or the other about who won. I have done too much caring recently, so it’s a bit of a treat to just let it play out one way or the other.

The Italian side won it, in no small part to Ademola Lookman, who banged in a sensational hat-trick. The third goal in particular, wooooof! It is always interesting to see how a player who struggled so much at one club has flourished elsewhere. He scored just 4 goals for Everton after moving from Charlton. He had so-so loan spells at Leicester and Fulham, but last night he was the main man in a European final. Sometimes you just need to find the right environment as a player.

This was, of course, Leverkusen’s first defeat of the season, and I’m not sure Xabi Alonso got it right tactically. His team selection from the off was a bit strange, and Atalanta’s style nullified them every time they got into their half. I watched Granit Xhaka, once of this parish, drop deeper and deeper to pick up the ball to try and get them going, and that was in stark contrast to where he played for us for the last couple of seasons – his most effective period as an Arsenal player.

It’s never easy to lose a final, but the safety-net of the Bundesliga – and the German cup final this weekend – will ensure it remains a great season for them. And as for Atalanta and Gian Piero Gasperini, it’s their first ever European trophy, their first silverware since the Italian Cup in 1963, so what a story that is for them. Sead Kolasinac, Europa League winner. Who’d have thought?

They’ll be an interesting team to keep an eye on in next season’s Champions League too.

Meanwhile, Albert Sambi Lokonga, who spent an injury hit season on loan with Luton, has revealed he’ll be looking for a new club this summer after discussions with Arsenal. Speaking to the BBC, he said:

I had a discussion with Arsenal and the conclusion was the best thing for me was to leave the club, so now it’s up to my agent and the club to find something. I still have a contract there, one year plus a one-year option so let’s see what happens.

There will be so much to write and talk about when it comes to the transfer window this summer, and the list of potential departures is really quite long. For the Belgian though, there’s at least clarity about what comes next. Arsenal have said ‘You have no future here’, so it’s up to his representatives to sort out a move.

You might worry that the public knowledge about his availability and the fact he’s not wanted here could play a part in how we much we get, but at least there’s been no hanging around. No cloud of uncertainty. He knows. Arsenal know. Other clubs know. So, let’s see what Edu can generate for a player who did well when he was fit last season, but whose stock probably hasn’t shifted much since his arrival from Anderlecht in the summer of 2021.

Meanwhile, with Aaron Ramsdale one of the likely departures this summer, and a question mark over the future of Karl Hein (if he stays, he’ll likely go out on loan), we’ve been linked with Dutch keeper Justin Bijlow. He’s spent his entire career with Feyenoord, and has 8 caps for the Netherlands, and that’s about as much as I know.

I did wonder about what profile of keeper we’d go for this summer though. It was always strange to me that we brought in Matt Turner, who struggled to do what we want from our keepers with the ball at his feet. So, the first thing I did was look up his passing stats via FBREF, and compared with with David Raya.

Bijlow top, then Raya

At least in that very basic comparison, they seem to be relatively in-sync. I don’t know what he’s like as a shot-stopper or someone who will come for crosses etc, but it does look as if he can use the ball with his feet in a way that matches the style of the team.

I think our goalkeeper recruitment, driven by Inaki Cana, has been such that it’s not unreasonable to have doubts about any player we target. If you have Alex Runarsson and Turner in your browser history (simply because he was a bad fit with how we play), then people will have questions. Bijlow might be the first of many we’re linked with, but surely whoever we bring in has to be able to play in a way that is analogous with Raya whose deal will become permanent at some point.

Right, that’s your lot for now. I am taking a few days with a minimal workload this week, so there won’t be an Arsecast this week. Regular service will begin again on Monday with an Arsecast Extra, so back tomorrow with just a blog.

Until then.

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