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Albert Sambi Lokonga sign: a necessary piece of reconstruction

Good morning everyone.

We made our second commitment of the summer yesterday, when the transfer of Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht was finally confirmed. He is a 21 year old central midfielder who was captain of the Belgian team at a relatively young age, coming into the market with a certain lineage and a lot of potential, and Mikel Arteta says:

Albert is a very intelligent player who has shown great maturity in his achievements in his development. He was well trained by Vincent Kompany and his team in Anderlecht. I know Vincent very well and he talks so much about Albert and the positive influence he has had on Anderlecht in recent seasons. We are confident that Albert is ready for the next stage of his development and look forward to welcoming a new member with his quality and presence to our squad.

If you want to learn a little about him as a gamer, check out Phil Costa’s profile piece here. Scott did an After The Numbers About Him for Arseblog News, and there’s an accompanying podcast now 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 appreciates it’s a “six”, a low-lying midfielder, but says he can box-to-box too. His physical profile is decent, he’s 6, reads the game well, and most importantly – as Phil points out – he’s trying to get the ball forward a lot. For a team that doesn’t do this as often as we’d like, that’s certainly interesting. This is also one of the controversial reasons we are targeting Ben White. So we’re starting to see some clues from the signings as to how the manager would like them to affect the team.

He was asked about Mikel Arteta and Edu and said:

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

That becomes clear again when you look at the players we have been most closely associated with this summer. We have two 21-year-olds under contract, Ben White is 23, and even someone like Ruben Neves – who feels more like a veteran – is only 24. Then there are Kieran Tierney (24), Emile Smith Rowe (20), Bukayo Saka (19th). ), Gabriel Martinelli (20) and you have a fairly young core supported by more experienced players like Nicolas Pepe, Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It looks like there is a plan. How successful it will be remains to be seen, and it’s probably too early to call it Project Youth II or something, but you can see that there is definitely a change of course taking place here.

I know it wasn’t long ago that we gave a 32-year-old a three-year contract and a 28-year-old substitute a four-year contract. It wasn’t that long ago that we brought in “older” signings like Sokratis or Stephan Lichtsteiner in order to increase the depth of the squad. At some point you have to start learning and doing things differently and that feels like we’re here.

Now we’re going to sign youngsters with potential and that’s clearly a better strategy because even if they don’t work they retain some value and you don’t get clucked around with someone who is very difficult to switch. The advantage is that they reach their full potential in the red and white of Arsenal, become important and influential players in the first team and, ultimately, valuable assets that can generate profits if a sales decision is made. Again, it’s just beginning, but there is some encouragement to see this.

Back to the newbie who will be wearing the Sambi 23 on his jersey, and it’s worth pointing out where exactly he stands in his development. In the 2018/19 season he suffered a serious knee injury (ACL), which affected his performance for Anderlecht. He played for them 78 times, and to put that in the Arsenal context, he stands with the likes of:

Eddie Nketiah: 65 appearances at Arsenal, 19 for Leeds.

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

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

Although he is clearly a young player with a lot of potential (including shortly before being called to the Belgian squad), we have him relatively early in his career. He still has a lot to learn and for all his qualities it feels like his first season in England will be a big one. I don’t think this is the type of guy who starts a lot of games right away, but that’s what we thought of Matteo Guendouzi too, so it’s not entirely unprecedented.

People will rightly say that the two signings we’ve made so far aren’t nailed to the first-team starters. They’re not players who came to make the first XI better right away. That is true, and these are arrivals that obviously have yet to happen. However, I suspect deals for these type of players are a little more complex than signing young guys to change your squad’s profile. Hopefully these signings aren’t all that far away though, and the need for the Partey partner is perhaps the most obvious void on the team right now.

Still, if you ask Arsenal to do things differently, end the obsession with graying veterans as a way back to the top 4, etc., the arrival of Sambi and Tavares should be gratifying. They’re not the most important part of this summer’s transfer window, but they’re still necessary parts to rebuild. Let’s hope he can settle in quickly (his English is already very good, which is helpful) and take off in terms of his Arsenal career. He’s already training with the boys before the trip to Florida this week, and we should see him for the first time at the Orlando Games.

Okay, let’s leave it at that. If you haven’t heard, check out the new Arsecast Extra below. In the meantime, enjoy yourself!

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This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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