Getting recommended to one of the biggest clubs in the world by one of the greatest strikers to have ever graced the game is no small feat, yet that is the situation that Albert Sambi Lokonga finds himself in.
As the transfer window is now well underway, Arsenal’s need for a midfielder grows ever stronger. With Mattéo Guendouzi poised to move to Marseille, Granit Xhaka deep in negotiations with Roma and Lucas Torreira reportedly of interest to both Atlético Madrid and Sevilla, Arsenal will soon need to address their midfield issues.
While a move for a midfielder is likely contingent on Arsenal shifting some midfielders, the news broke on Tuesday that Arsenal had had an initial, opening bid of €15m rejected for Anderlecht midfielder, Albert Sambi Lokonga.
Lokonga’s name has been mentioned a fair bit this season, with the news that former captain Thierry Henry, who has worked extensively with Lokonga in the Belgium set-up, had personally suggested him to the recruitment team.
While Henry’s recommendation has certainly grabbed the headlines, it is unknown to many that Arsenal had in fact been extensively scouting the Belgian midfielder well before Henry made his recommendation. Edu’s harrying of the recruitment team last summer has seen Arsenal adopt a more analytical approach to first-team recruitment akin to Liverpool’s set-up under Michael Edwards, and the new model has allowed Arsenal to target more promising players who will hold-up under a provisional scouting trip as well as having the raw data to back them up.
Lokonga made 27 apperances in the Belgian First Division A last season, grabbing three goals and two assists. While these stats are unlikely to set the world on fire for fans who had hoped that the club were bringing in the Belgian equivalent of Bruno Fernandes, it’s his other stats where things get interesting.
While the statistics available from the Belgian league are not as in-depth as those available in the Premier League, we can still see Lokonga’s performance stats have looked to be intriguing.
Lokonga manages 0.9 key passes every match, roughly 63 passes-per-match and has a pass success rate of 85.8% which is a high stat considering Lokonga generally averages around 5 long balls per-match.
His tackling perhaps leaves a little to be desired with stats of 1.6 tackles, 1.8 interceptions, 1.2 fouls, 0.3 blocks and 1.1 clearances all per-match. However, given Anderlecht’s third-place positioning in the league last season and the relatively new learning period afforded to the squad under rookie manager Vincent Kompany, it’s perhaps not too surprising to see Lokonga stand apart from the crowd in terms of defensive aptitude in a way that someone like N’Golo Kanté does for Chelsea.
It has been noted by fans and pundits alike that Lokonga generally favours a long-shot rather than waiting to get into the box. This may come as a bitter blow to Arsenal fans who have watched Thomas Partey’s skied efforts reduce air traffic around Islington on matchdays, even if Arsenal are playing away.
Despite this, Lokonga only really seems to average around 1.2 shots-per game, which seems to suggest that if he has not succeeded, he is unwilling to attempt another. Lokonga’s playstyle, coupled with the fact that he is the team’s main ball-carrier, means that he is fouled far more than most players in the team, with the youngster picking up 3 fouls every-match.
While Lokonga’s stats may not be the sort of reading that will have Arsenal fans salivating. Belgium boss, Roberto Martínez has already referred to Lokonga as having “an exception future” ahead of him, he has been personally recommended to the club by club legend Thierry Henry and it is thought that a number of Europe’s biggest clubs are keeping an eye on the talented midfielder.
Given the likelihood that Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira are all going to leave this summer, Arsenal need to look to strengthen in midfield, with Sander Berge, Yves Bissouma and Rúben Neves all thought to be high on the Gunners’ list of priorities.
However, it is the departure of Mattéo Guendouzi that will likely see the Lokonga deal thrive. Guendouzi was initially signed as a gem for the future under former Head of Recruitment, Sven Mislintat. However, since Mislintat’s departure and Guendouzi’s falling out with Mikel Arteta, it seems as though Lokonga could be given a real chance to shine in the Arsenal side if Guendouzi does leave, as Marsellie and Benfica begin to circle.
Anderlecht are reportedly holding out for around €20m, a fee which seems well within Arsenal’s grasp, but looking at his stats, there is plenty to build off, so €20m could prove to be a bargain.