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Albert Sambi-Lokonga at Arsenal FC – Scout Report

This scout report will provide an analysis of Lokonga’s individual talent as a player, and what he will bring to the table at Arsenal this season. In this article I have analyzed how can he fit in the tactics used by Mikel Arteta and taken out videos from his recent game vs Chelsea in the Premier League to show what he can really do.

Why was Lokonga signed?

Arsenal completed the signing of 21-year-old midfielder Albert Sambi-Lokonga from RSC Anderlecht for an initial fee of around £15million plus add-ons. Lokonga was the captain of his previous team and hence is viewed as a player who could challenge for a place in the first team this season and someone with a bright future.

Last season, Arsenal’s actions in possession were narrow and their positioning off the ball wasn’t helping in breaking through the oppositions’ pressing structures. Arsenal struggled to break through the opposition’s press and was often stuck in the central areas, unable to open the passing lanes and progress the ball efficiently.

Lokonga has been signed for what he does in possession, which is something similar to Thomas Partey. Mikel Arteta needed someone who’s confident on the ball to implement his possession-based style of play. Arteta also needed a good dribbler who can work well under pressure when in possession of the ball. Lokonga has the ability to control the tempo of the game while also constantly scanning for open spaces to keep the ball moving.

The young Belgian midfielder reads the game well, which allows him to move smartly off the ball and leads to strong decision-making on it. This will allow Arsenal to retain possession and move the ball both laterally and forward, which respectively releases pressure. He will surely help the team to bypass the opposition’s press and penetrate defensive blocks.

In possession

One of the key themes of Arsenal’s attacking play is the long diagonal switch to the players operating on the wide channels. Arteta has used both his midfielders and center backs for this in his build-up play strategies. So, it’s important that any player dropping deep from midfield possesses the ability to play long passes to the wingers or fullbacks.

When you see Lokonga play, you can notice that he has the ability to switch the play effectively. It doesn’t matter whether he’s sitting way deep in the midfield or pushed up, as is his case often when Arsenal attacked, he has shown that he has the technical ability and power to switch the play from one flank to another. The confidence of receiving the ball under pressure is something that was always lacking in Arsenal’s alternative midfield options and this is where Lokonga’s signing has helped.

In his few matches for Arsenal, Lokonga has shown moments of brightness and sharp thinking in midfield. He displays a willingness to move the ball forward, whether that be by carrying it himself or playing progressive passes. The young Belgian has also shown that he has the spatial awareness and agility to skip away from pressure and travel with the ball. Lokonga also possesses the ability to find time and space to hit attackers upfront on the run with expert precision. Against Chelsea, he played a game high 9 passes into the final third. His passes held an xT (expected threat) of 0.47 which was the highest by any Arsenal player in the match.

If you notice carefully, he always has his head up and gets good touches on the ball. He has a varied passing range with an excellent vision, which makes him adept at playing passes either on the ground or through the air into space for his teammates to latch on to. When in possession one of the most important attributes he has is composure. Lokonga can always be seen demanding the ball from his teammates as he provides them with very good passing options. His patience and ability to let the play develop rather than forcing killer passes makes him better than the other alternative midfield options at Arsenal.

As we have seen in the above video, he likes to drop deeper to either provide a passing option to the back line or the goalkeeper, which opens up passing lanes in midfield because he is inviting pressure and dragging players with him. This movement by Lokonga has acted as a pressing trigger for the opposition till now and his dribbling skills have helped him in bypassing markers and play line-breaking passes upfront.

When Arsenal has the ball

Lokonga looks like a classic centre midfielder who is always on his toes, anticipating the loose ball, ready to receive – exactly what Arsenal has lacked in other midfielders. The young Belgian is constantly scanning the pitch when his team is without possession, as well as when they have it.

Look at the video below and see how he provides a passing option to his teammates while scanning at the same time to increase his knowledge of the space around him and the positioning of everyone else on the pitch. If you look carefully, he is always positioned centrally between two opposition players, which urges other players to break lines and move the play forward.

Lokonga was always available as a passing option to his teammates but wasn’t played the ball. I think he had enough time to receive the ball to switch the play or play it forward.

We have seen the 21-year-old adapt a more box to box role at Arsenal in which he is constantly moving all over the field, using his positioning to offer quality passing options to his teammates. His spatial awareness and anticipation skills make it easy for him to break lines and play progressive forwards to help retain possession while also going forward.

Defending

Lokonga is 6ft tall and uses his large frame to execute his defensive actions, although he is not one of the most pro-active players while defending. He rarely racks up fouls and tackles when defending. He is never highly engaged in defensive duels, but he is an effective tackler who is patient as he waits for the right moment to put in a tackle and would be rated just above average when it comes to winning aerial duels. Instead, he is a player who uses his positioning and body to defend spaces on the field. Rather than diving into challenges, he relies on his anticipation skills, which would allow him to quickly react to the opposition’s movement. He is effective at using his body shape to shepherd attacks wide. The young Belgian is a promising player but defensively shows inexperience, as he also does not engage in winning second balls.  

Lokonga defended his space well as he cuts out the passing lane from Alonso to Lukaku which was the only way out of this wide trap applied by Arsenal.
Good anticipation by Lokonga here as he reached on time, which stopped Kovacic from playing forward and forced him to play back to Azpilicueta.

Lokonga has difficulty in sensing danger as he lacks defensive awareness which could prove problematic, and his recovery runs to get back into position are slow. Age is on his side and with proper coaching, he could work on these things and develop to become even better.

As Kovacic dropped deep to receive the ball, Lokonga kept on following him. Here he could have either stayed back to cover his space and stopped the pass to the more dangerous Havertz or his recovery run could have been a lot quicker to stop Havertz from starting an attack.

Conclusion

It looks like Arteta is trying to create a press resistant Arsenal that could focus on ball possession and positional play, also relying on preparation through video analysis. Lokonga’s signing is an important step in the right direction for better space exploitation and a more creative and unpredictable movement by the whole team during matches. The dynamic of Arsenal’s midfield has been too static for too long. He has the qualities to build on the arrival of Partey last summer and add vibrancy to the middle third, with much more room for him to develop. The 21-year-old midfielder has recently been called up to the Belgium squad for the World Cup qualifiers. I believe Lokonga will fit in nicely at Arsenal.

Created using: Once Video Analyzer PRO by Once Sport | https://www.once.de/once-video-analyser-pro/

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