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Arsenal: 3 improvements for Sambi Lokonga to make

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Arsenal: 3 improvements Sambi Lokonga needs to make before he can start playing ahead of Mikel Arteta’s preferred choice of Granit Xhaka. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The feeling in and around Arsenal has been unrecongisable in the past few days. This strange sensation has gripped the fanbase and it’s all because of this special occurrence referred to as a….win?

No weekends ruined and no bombardment of ridicule from rival supporters or close friends, in times where there isn’t much to get excited about, 1-0 home victories over lowly Norwich have to be savoured.

It’s a win. We enjoy wins. It’s kind of the aim of the game. While nobody is going to rub this in anyone’s face or stick some money on Arsenal winning the league, you have to make the most of it.

Part of the reason it feels new and exciting is because the team is new and exciting. A flurry of activity in the summer transfer market was laid out on the Emirates turf last time out for everyone to get their teeth sunk into.

Arsenal: 3 improvements Sambi Lokonga needs to make before he can start playing ahead of Mikel Arteta’s preferred choice of Granit Xhaka

With five of the six arrivals on the pitch, there was some mistaking for thinking there were only four present: Albert Sambi Lokonga has slotted into this team and division like a glove. Not looking out of place, his dabbles in pre-season and starting three of the four Premier League outings this term has helped him settle in.

But there is a challenger to his spot in the team. Well, in all honesty, he’s only really keeping it warm while Granit Xhaka plays out his suspension. This is Mikel Arteta we’re talking about after all.

Returning the first team training on Wednesday after recovering from COVID-19, the Swiss still has two more matches of his suspension to sit out – against Burnley and AFC Wimbledon.

One of Arteta’s own non-negotiables, fresh off the back of a one-year extension on his contract there is no conceivable way he doesn’t waltz his into the starting lineup once available. It’s impossible to see happening. Arteta and Xhaka are like two peas in a pod.

And while the chances of Sambi retaining his place ahead of Xhaka are minimal – which is in no way a slight on the Belgian – it’s also the right call to bring the Swiss back in, for now. Sambi’s development needs monitoring and the demands of the division brought onto him gradually.

So, what does Sambi need to do to impress further?

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LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 01: Albert Sambi Lokonga of Arsenal during the Pre Season Friendly between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on August 1, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

1. Improve His Spatial Awareness & Positioning

There is a very valid claim for Sambi to keep his place in the Arsenal team even when Xhaka returns. Certainly in the running for the Player of the Month award, his press resistance, dynamic range of pass and positivity on the ball have all been highlights of his time in red and white.

Tempo has been a key criticism of Arsenal’s play under Arteta and when a player like Xhaka who lacks mobility and athleticism is one of, if not the, player making the most touches over the course of a match, fingers begin being pointed.

Sambi brings additional speed but it’s his work off the ball where a different element of pace comes into question.

The Premier League is a fast division, certainly faster than the Belgian Pro League, with outstanding athletes dotted across all sides. It’s in situations off the ball were the 21-year-old is often found ball watching are caught unaware of runners from deep.

Guilty of not tracking players making these movements at defences or through central areas, he has to improve his spatial awareness and continue scanning the areas around him when Arsenal are in their usual mid-block. Against Norwich Arsenal were rarely played through in the middle, which is a sign of improvement already.

It’s something that can absolutely be coached and worked on individually because he possesses the physical capabilities to cover these spaces and cutting off passing lanes better. Nothing other than practice and minutes will nail these sequences of play down and as soon as this element of his game is fine-tuned the topic over whether he deserves a place in the team above Xhaka becomes a more justifiable one in the manager’s eyes.

Continued on next page…

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