Arsenal have announced the signing of Belgian midfielder, Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht in a deal believed to be worth around £15m, which could rise to £18.3m in eventual bonuses. There is a 5% sell-on clause inserted into the player’s contract as well. Lokonga will wear the number 23 shirt, vacated by the departed David Luiz. The midfielder has signed a four year contract, with the option for a fifth to be taken up at the club’s discretion.
Lokonga has been a target for Arsenal for a very long time, long before the reported recommendation to the scouting team from Thierry Henry. Arsenal had an initial bid of £15m rejected by the Belgian side, however, a deal was always expected to be completed in the end.
It has long been a preference for the Arsenal recruitment team to bring in undiscovered gems to the club, a policy that has seen the likes of Mattéo Guendouzi, Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba join the club, with Lokonga likely taking Guendouzi’s place in midfield, following his departure to Marseille.
Since the departure of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have been on the lookout for a true number eight to come in and fill the void. While Dani Ceballos ostensibly occupied this role under both Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta, the Spaniard’s disappointing performances last season have seen Arsenal look elsewhere. While Lokonga may not necessarily fir the “true 8” role, he can deputise in the position, but is seen more as a trusty back-up to Thomas Partey.
This is what has brought them to Lokonga’s file. The Belgian midfielder’s stats certainly give an insight into the kind of player that Arsenal potentially have on their hands, as do the comments of Roberto Martínez, the Belgian head coach, who predicts a big future for the youngster.
It seems rather unlikely that Lokonga will be thrust into the action immediately. Indeed, Arsenal’s opening six matches see them take on newly promoted Brentford, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham all in the space of a month, which seems an unlikely time to thrust the youngster into the thick of things straight away, though he will likely be in and around the first-team and will likely be eased into the side similar to how Emery brought Guendouzi into the fold when he first arrived at the club.
Lokonga is Arsenal’s second signing of the summer, following the arrival of Nuno Tavares from Benfica and is expected to be followed by Ben White from Brighton & Hove Albion as well as a number of departures; including Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Sead Kolašinac.
Despite having passed his medical, Lokonga was unable to join up with his Arsenal teammates in Scotland, following their games against Hibernian and Rangers; however, he will be involved in the club’s upcoming American training camp.
William Saliba has joined French club Marseille on loan for the remainder of the 2021/22 season, the move does not include a purchase option. Saliba has also not extended his contract with the club before moving either.
This will be Saliba’s third loan move in the three years that he has been with Arsenal, prompting an angry outcry from Arsenal fans who want to see the defender live up to the promise he has shown during his previous two loan spells.
Saliba was initially signed from French side Saint-Étienne, however, given the complications that arose amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the French league was cut short, as too was Saliba’s ability to play. Arsenal had hoped that he would have a chance to impress in pre-season, however, given the limited pre-season available before the 2020/21 season, the decision was taken that Saint-Étienne should spend another season on loan.
This too was fraught with complications. Arsenal had initially intended to loan Saliba out in the summer for a full season, however, the club was unable to come to an agreement with Saint-Étienne for Saliba to return to them on loan and he was unable to leave. The issue arose as Arsenal had already submitted their squads for the Europa League two days prior, which the club had omitted Saliba from, believing him to be leaving on loan.
The furstration grew as they were unable to play him in any first-team matches and he was therefore loaned out in January to OGC Nice for the next six months, where, by all accounts, he heartily impressed.
Arsenal fans had hoped to catch a glimpse of Saliba this season, but Saliba has once again been loaned out. While Arsenal fans will likely come to the somewhat logical conclusion that Saliba is disliked by manager, Mikel Arteta, the reality is a little more straight-forward.
Saliba has only played twelve months of senior football in the past two years, which means that his development while on loan has been somewhat hampered; Arsenal want to see him get a full season of football under his belt as soon as possible before they risk him in the Premier League.
Then there is the issue of recruitment. Arsenal’s interest in Brighton defender Ben White is well-known and the club are keen to splash as much as £50m on the defender, meaning that Saliba would slip to third in the pecking order behind White and Rob Holding.
The optimist tells Arsenal fans that with a full-season of football under his belt in France (and with Holding likely being moved on next summer), Arsenal will then give Saliba his chance to shine next season.
The pessimist will tell Arsenal fans that Arteta is sizing Saliba up ahead of a potential move next summer, which will likely see the club chalk up a loss in financials, a huge blow to their credentials with young signings in the future and will likely become a bit of a laughing stock for their treatment of an extremely gifted player.
Arsenal have announced the signing of Benfica full-back Nuno Tavares for a fee believed to be around the £7m mark, although the fee could rise as high as £8.5m with potential add-ons. Tavares will wear the number 20.
The club have been on the look out for cover for Kieran Tierney (who recently committed himself to a new five-year contract with the club) for a while now, with names such as Ryan Bertrand, Patrick van Aanholt, Josh Doig and Lee Buchanan all flying around in recent weeks.
Though the signing is perhaps not the top-level defender that fans had been dreaming of, Tavares does come highly recommended from his native Portugal.
The signing of Tavares seems to suggest a change in the recruitment drive at Arsenal this summer. Where in previous windows, Arsenal have looked to supplement any young talent with experience (such as the signings of David Luiz, Cédric Soares, Willian, Petr Čech and Pablo Marí), this summer seems to indicate that Arsenal are prioritising youngsters in the beginning of their career rather than those looking to put out to financial pasture.
Not much is known about Tavares in England aside from an…err…worrying video online showing his Alexis Sánchez-esque devotion to canine relations, however, Tavares’ profile is enough to have Arsenal interested.
Tavares is known for his fast-pace, athletic qualities and his ability to cross the ball. Though the youngster is still prone to the occasional error, Tavares is considered to be excellent cover for Tierney, who Arsenal will hope that he learns from.
Although Tavares’ release clause in his contract is believed to be around £75m, this was more to ward off potential suitors, but given the youngster’s precarious form, this was lowered significantly. It was also thought that Tavares would cost around £14m, however, Arsenal seem to have been able to scrounge up a bit of a bargain for themselves, with Benfica reportedly lowering their price as Arsenal were prepared to do a deal so quickly.
Tierney’s new contract and Tavares’ arrival, will likely see Sead Kolašinac’s time in North London come to an end. Tavares marks the first new arrival at the club this summer, with Anderlecht’s Albert Sambi Lokonga expected to join up in the next two weeks or so and a deal for Ben White is also expected to be concluded soon too.
Tavares will join up with his new teammates over the weekend ahead of Arsenal’s training camp in Scotland, where he is expected to make his first appearances for the club.
Arsenal will be the focus of the famous Amazon documentary series All or Nothing. The documentary will cover the inner workings of the club across the 2020/21 season, giving fans an insight into the work behind the scenes and also and the kind of preparation required for senior football.
Previous All or Nothing documentaries have focused on Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, the Brazilian national team and Tottenham Hotspur, with Mikel Arteta contributing greatly to the former during his tenure as Manchester City coach.
The documentary series grants a rare, unprecedented level of insight into the inner-workings of the club. Though fans will be treated to seeing how the players and manager prepare for games and an exclusive look at half-time teamtalks, the documentary will also show the work of other important figures at the club, such as Josh Kroenke, Vinai Venkatesham, Edu Gaspar and Per Mertesacker.
The documentary will be filmed across the course of the season and will likely be shown in its entirety at the end of the season in May, exclusively on the Amazon Prime video subscription service.
All or Nothing: Arsenal will be produced by 72 Films, executive produced by Mark Raphael, Clare Cameron and three-time BAFTA winner John Douglas.
Dan Grabiner, Head of UK Originals at Amazon Studios said: “Arsenal is a historic club going through a fascinating period, and we can’t wait to take viewers behind-the-scenes on the journey of this crucial season. All or Nothing is about intimate access to the passion and commitment behind elite sport, and in Arsenal we have the perfect subject for the next chapter. We are looking forward to Prime members around the world experiencing another Premier League season with a new club, through All or Nothing’s signature quality storytelling and access.”
While such unprecedented access to the club is certainly an enticing thought for fans, it is nevertheless a cause for concern. Documentaries of this nature are almost always a “tell-all” kind of scenario that usually leaves no stone unturned and in the case of a disappointing season, often becomes a central hub for memes and unnecessary insight into the way the team works.
There is also something sacred about the dressing room atmosphere. Mikel Arteta’s half-time team talks being broadcast for everyone to see, while fascinating, also provides people with insights into how the team works and what sort of tactics the team are likely to use, which is usually best kept behind the curtain.
Much like a magician revealing how he did his trick, some things are perhaps left behind the scenes.
We are looking forward to giving our fans around the world a unique insight into how we work day to day. We have one of the biggest global followings in the game and one consistent thing we hear from fans is their desire to see more about what happens behind closed doors at the club, All or Nothing will give our fans and sport lovers an opportunity to learn more about what makes Arsenal such a special club, our trophy laden history and our ambitions for future success.”
Mark Gonnella – Arsenal’s Media and Communications Director
However, one fascinating question remains, who will narrate the series? Manchester City’s documentary had Ben Kinglsey, where Tottenham had Tom Hardy, so who will narrate Arsenal’s?
Arsenal are not short on celebrity fans, with JAY-Z, Piers Morgan, Dido, Idris Elba, Roger Daltry, Prince Harry, Roger Waters, Mick Jagger and the Queen are all Arsenal fans, though any royal inclusion seems unlikely, if not impossible.
Arsenal ave confirmed that midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi, will join French team Marseille on loan with an obligation to purchase the player next summer for £10m.
Before leaving the club, Arsenal have taken up the chance to extend Guendouzi’s deal with the club for an extra year before allowing him to leave.
The reason for this, is because under the terms of his current deal, Guendouzi only has 12 months remaining on his deal before he becomes a free agent next summer. Desperate to extract some value for the talented midfielder before he leaves, Arsenal have taken up the clause in his contract to have his contract extended by a further year.
This seems to have become a fashionable contract choice for Arsenal in recent years (especially under former contracts negotiator, Huss Fahmy), with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, David Luiz, Willian, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka all signing similar deals in recent years, that provides the club with a little more wriggle room in situations like these.
The fee will no doubt be a disappointment to Arsenal fans, who perhaps expected a greater yield for a player with as much promise as Guendouzi. However, given the troubled midfielder’s current situation it is not surprising to see the reported fee as low as it is.
For one thing, Guendouzi only has (now) two years remaining on his contract and when the initial loan deal with Marseille expires, he will have only 12 months remaining, which means the club can expect a small fee for his services, a fee which also serves as an improvement on the £7m used to sign him in 2018.
Elsewhere, his attitude problems and his and Mikel Arteta’s obvious dislike of one-another has led to Arsenal getting a substantially smaller fee than the one fans would have hoped for.
The club’s seeming desperation to rid themselves of the player, coupled with the player’s own desperation to leave the club has also likely weakened Arsenal’s bargaining position.
Guendouzi’s form over the past two seasons has done little to endear him to potential buyers as well. A semi-decent spell for Arsenal was cut short by an on-field incident against Brighton & Hove Albion, whereas a brief loan spell at Hertha Berlin was marred by both injuries and the same problems rearing their ugly heads.
It seems to be the tale of the talented midfielder everywhere he goes. His stint at FC Lorient in France was marred by a breakdown in relations with his manager at the time Mickaël Landreau, who branded Guendouzi “complicated to manage and a pain on a daily basis”. This was hardly disproven at Arsenal, when an off-field incident in Dubai as coupled with the aforementioned issue against Brighton.
His time at Hertha Berlin was hardly a roaring success either, with Hertha boss Pal Dardai saying “It’s like puberty for him, he’s kind of a rebel. He has to work and learn like an animal.”, which was also coupled with a furious debate with teammate Matheus Cunha at half-time during a 1-4 home defeat to Werder Bremen.
“Complicated to manage and a pain on a daily basis”
Mickaël Landreau, Guendouzi’s manager at FC Lorient.
Guendouzi’s talent is completely undeniable. He is fantastic in possession and his work out of it has improved too. However, his undeniable talent, which could even see him playing for the top clubs in the world, seems to always be usurped by his fiery temper and a total hatred of authority. Everyone can hope that he eventually grows up and learns to accept the criticisms made of him, but it looks as though Guendouzi may go down as one of football’s many what could have been stories.
The beginning of the transfer window has seen the usual flurry of transfer rumours swirl around the club as Arsenal begin their preparations for the 2021/22 Premier League season. The club faces its first season without European football of any kind, for nearly 25 years and now have the unenviable task of mounting a push to get back into the Champions League for the first time since 2017.
Preparations for the new campaign will begin on the 8th of July, when the Arsenal squad returns from their holidays, though there will be a few notable exceptions; Kieran Tierney, Bernd Leno, Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka will all be either on holiday or (hopefully) continuing their excursions at EURO 2020. Meanwhile, Lucas Torreira is unlikely to feature owing to his involvement at the Copa América and as he will likely be sold; meanwhile, both Gabriel Magalhães and Gabriel Martinelli are likely to miss the start of the season, owing to their involvement in the Olympics.
Aside from this, there is also a hope that Arsenal will have new signings Nuno Tavares, who is expected to be announced in the coming days, following his successful medical in Portugal, and Albert Sambi Lokonga, who’s move from RSC Anderlecht edges ever closer. Also on the transfer front, is the situation of Brighton defender, Ben White. Though a deal is yet to be struck with Brighton for the England international, it is thought that Arsenal are likely to have the player signed up and a part of the first-team squad after the EUROs are over, though like Saka, Xhaka, Torreira, Tierney and Leno, he will likely require a holiday before joining up with Mikel Arteta’s squad.
Given the absence of Gabriel, Pablo Marí likely will partner one of Rob Holding and Ben White on the opening day of the season. William Saliba would have been in with a chance, though his impending loan move to Marseille means that Arsenal will likely only have one defender to choose from, two if White signs.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s attention will also likely be drawn to the other members of the squad that need to be attended to. Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Mattéo Guendouzi are all expected to depart the club this summer, with the futures of Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Sead Kolašinac and Alexandre Lacazette still yet to be sorted out.
Arsenal are unlikely to commit to any further deals until they have managed to shift one or two players along the way; not for financial reasons (though these will likely still help) but mainly to help trim the fat of such a big squad. Though rumours have persisted recently that the club has made an opening bid of around €40m for Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli, sources at the club deny that such a bid has been lodged, despite the assurances of Sassuolo president Giovanni Carnevali that Arsenal’s bid is “significant”, though Arsenal do hold a significant interest in the player and will likely lie in wait for the midfielder waiting to pounce properly if Juventus are unable to agree a fee with Sassuolo, however, given the relationship between the two clubs and the player’s desire to play for la Vecchia Signora, it seems unlikely that Arsenal will be in the running.
Though Locatelli would likely be a very attractive signing for Arsenal fans, Rúben Neves of Wolves is thought to be a more immediate replacement for Xhaka.
The new season is also likely to see Arteta finally adopt the 4-3-3 formation that he has wanted to play since he arrived at the club. This would mean that Partey, Neves and Locatelli (if Arsenal were to procure both players) would play in the Arsenal midfield. A very tasty option if Arsenal can pull it off, but given that Neves is likely to cost around £30m and Locatelli around £34m, coupled with the impending arrival of Lokonga for £20m, an £84m outlay for the midfield seems a fairly unlikely undertaking.
Another issue still yet to be resolved is the future of Emile Smith Rowe. Though Arsenal sources remain outwardly confident that the youngster will sign a new contract with the club, there is still a fair amount of anxiety among Arsenal fans as talks drag on even further. Reports suggest that Smith Rowe will not sign his deal until his holidays are over, however, the news that Aston Villa have made two seperate bids of £25m and £30m respectively is causing a fair amount of unease. Whether these are just inventions of an agent looking to ensure a rise in the wages that the club would need to offer Smith Rowe or are genuine bids, these are still worrying times.
Arsenal have maintained on multiple occasions that they will accept no less than £75m for the Hale End graduate, though Villa seem undeterred by Arsenal’s stance and may yet return with a third bid.
As for creativity, Arsenal are still in the market for a creative attacker who can relieve some of the workload for Smith Rowe. Mikel Arteta’s first-choice was Martin Ødegaard from Real Madrid, who spent the past six months on loan with the club, though the chances of Ødgeaard returning to Arsenal look slim, especially given his most recent Instagram post and with Carlo Ancelotti reportedly keen on giving the youngster a chance to prove himself.
Other targets have been mooted, such as Leicester City’s James Maddison, though his price tag is likely to be an obstacle for the club. There haven’t been any concrete links to other names, although the club’s long-standing interest in Julian Brandt, Houssem Aouar and Christopher Nkunku are known, it remains to be seen if Arsenal will move for any of them in the forthcoming window. Arsenal failed in a bid for Aouar last summer, though may be tempted to return this summer if the leaks regarding Lyon’s financial situation are true and if Arsenal are unable to land any of their prime targets before the end of the window.
Then there is the club’s rather worrying homegrown quota. Though Ben White is likely to be joining, the club are likely to sell Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson this summer, which would see four homegrown players leave the club. The club have identified Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale as someone who can not only become the club’s second-choice goalkeeper, but one who can also provide healthy competition for Bernd Leno, though Ramsdale has mainly been targeted as he would provide additional cover for the club’s homegrown quota, though his price may again prove too costly and Arsenal make look elsewhere, with Brentford’s David Raya and West Brom’s Sam Johnstone both admired by the club.
In terms of the youth players coming through this season, Arsenal will likely hand more chances to Folarian Balogun, who recently signed a new long-term contract with the club and will also likely hand some minutes to Miguel Azeez as well, who has also caught the manager’s eye in recent months. Though it is unlikely that Arsenal will rely on both too heavily, they will provide useful cover for the future.
Over the next few weeks, Arsenal will play a series of friendlies with games against Hibernian, Rangers, Inter Milan, Everton or Millonarios, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, which will provide useful glimpses at competitive football before the Premier League season starts on Friday the 13th of August.
The lack of European football in the calendar is a very unwelcome sight for Arsenal fans, but may prove to be a blessing in disguise. Without a European fixture taking up a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night, Arsenal will have ample chances to recover for their next few games. Small comfort, especially when the League Cup (assuming Arsenal get far enough) and the FA Cup fully kick in.
There will also be a distinct lack of experience at the club this season as well. Following the expiration of their contracts, Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz have since left the club, but so too have Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mesut Özil, both of whom departed in the January window amid a shroud of controversy. Though Arsenal have been known to supplement any younger signings with older players, the club’s recent transfer strategy suggests that Arsenal are aiming for younger players this time around and although stalwarts such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey, Willian, Rob Holding, Bernd Leno, Pablo Marí and Cédric Soares are all on hand to provide first-hand experience for those who need it, it does look as though Arsenal will be entering the season with a distinctly younger squad than most of their competitors.
The forward line is also an area that will need to greatly improve this season. Though no major departures are expected, Arsenal will be hoping that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has been training in Greece with A.O. Mykonos’ academy side, will find form once more. The future of Willian is also one of great interest to Arsenal fans too as the Brazilian has already priced himself out of a move to Inter Miami, with club, fans and player all keen to see an end to the former Chelsea winger’s time with the club.
Then there is also the issue of a right-back. While Héctor Bellerín is expected to leave the club this summer amid interest from Spain, Italy and France, Arsenal will need to move for a right-back before the season starts. Calum Chambers deputised impressively in the position last season, but is clearly not the favourite to start there regularly. This could prompt a move for RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, who Arsenal are reportedly keen on. Adams’ ability to play as a holding midfielder as well as a right-back will make him a very enticing target for Arsenal.
If Arsenal are able to land all of their primary targets this summer, then a 4-3-3 shouldn’t be out of the question, but a 4-2-3-1 is a more likely formation on the opening day of the season.
Though we may only be a few weeks into the summer transfer window, that hasn’t stopped the usual flurry of transfer rumours that so make up what fans have dubbed “silly season”. However, this summer seems to have presented a new series of rumours, rumours that will likely bring a wry smile to Arsenal fans.
In the past, Arsenal have always attempted to supplement any incomings with one or two older players, in order to add experience where there may be none.
Back in the 2018/19 season, Unai Emery’s first season in charge, Arsenal signed Lucas Torreira, Mattéo Guendouzi and Bernd Leno, all of whom seemed to fit the younger bill of what Arsenal were looking for, but these signings were also followed by the signings of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos – a means of adding some much needed experience to the team.
The following season, Gabriel Martinelli, Nicolas Pépé and Kieran Tierney were brought in, however, following the departure of Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal, Arsenal added David Luiz to their ranks too. This was also followed bu the signings of Cédric Soares and Pablo Marí in the January window.
Last summer, Arsenal added Gabriel Magalhães, a promising central defender from Lille, but this too was preceeded by the free transfer of Willian from Chelsea and was then followed by the signing of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid, though Partey had always been on the Gunners’ list of potential targets as far back as Arsène Wenger’s time with the club. Even Maty Ryan joined in January temporarily, though more to provide cover than anything else.
Though Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, David Luiz, Cédric, Marí and Willian were all ostensibly brought in to cover specific needs and as stop-gap covers to get Arsenal out of a tight jam, it was nevertheless somewhat disheartening to see Arsenal signing older players, when younger players were readily available and at lower prices.
David Luiz, Willian and Cédric especially are transfers that will leave a sour taste in the mouth for Arsenal fans given the fact that all three were part of the shady dealings of super agent Kia Joorabchian, however, all the older signings served their own purposes.
Lichtsteiner, despite how poorly suited to Arsenal he was, was there to offer competitive back-up to Héctor Bellerín, whereas Sokratis was the logicial choice as Arsenal looked to replace the stoic professionalism of the retiring Per Mertesacker. The blatant unprofessionalism of Laurent Koscielny, which left the club in a sticky situation, forced their hands. With a week remaining in the window and finances dwindling, Arsenal couldn’t simply dive into the transfer kitty and bring in Raphaël Varane, so they were forced to buy a defender that most resembled Koscielny – captain material, good in the air, decent tackling and excellent passing out from the back abilities, which led them logically to the £8m rated David Luiz.
However, this summer has seen a rather abrupt change to the club’s transfer priorities. Where before older players were never dismissed and were even admired by the scouting department, it seems now that Arsenal have set their sights firmly on players in the early stages of their career.
Younger players have almost always been the preference of clubs around the world, even before video games like Football Manager came to prominence. Signing youngsters was generally seen as a win-win for the club; they improve, then you have someone who will become a mainstay for years to come and may even fetch a decent transfer sum in a few years time; if they fail, then you can always shift them along fairly easily with no questions asked.
This summer is the first summer without European football for the forthcoming campaign that Arsenal have had for nearly twenty-five years. Normally, this would be the time for the club to double down on the idea of adding experience to their impressive roster of youngsters to get Arsenal back to where they need to be. No doubt, mammoth contracts would have been tabled for Sergio Ramos, Elseid Hysaj and Ryan Bertrand, while the club throws money to other positions, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
Though the idea of Sergio Ramos in an Arsenal shirt, particularly an Arsenal shirt without European football, would be ludicrous, it seems that Arsenal have decided to go in the opposite direction in terms of a strategy this time around.
Last season is definitely a season that Arsenal and Arsenal fans would do well to forget, but the few bright sparks in the team seemed to come from the club’s youth talent, rather than through the more established internationals. While Willian and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struggled for form, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Kieran Tierney, Nicolas Pépé and Gabriel Martinelli all stepped up to the plate and saved what little of the season there was to save.
It seems that this is something the club wish to lean into more. Miguel Azeez and Folarian Balogun (fresh off signing his new contract) will likely be the latest crop of youngsters to be given a chance int he team next season, however, they will have competition from the youngsters Arsenal look certain to bring through this season.
Ben White of Brighton & Hove Albion is thought to be the club’s first marquee signing this summer, with Anderlecht’s Albert Sambi Lokonga following close behind. Benfica’s Nuno Tavares is the most likely candidate to come in and deputise for Kieran Tierney and other targets seem to enforce this too.
Though signings in midfield will likely be contingent on the departures of Granit Xhaka, Mattéo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, it is still reassuring to see names such as Rúben Neves, Sander Berge and Yves Bissouma all linked to replace them.
Even in positions that Arsenal are plentiful, players such as Odsonne Edouard at Celtic and André Onana at Ajax are thought to be admired by the Arsenal scouting department.
However, the real problem issues for the club lie in right-back and in attacking midfield. With Héctor Bellerín likely to move and Emile Smith Rowe likely unable to hold down the number ten position on his own, Arsenal will need new targets.
In terms of replacing Bellerín, RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams (a boyhood Arsenal fan) seems to be the most highly-regarded among the technical team, whereas Martin Ødegaard tops the list of potential number tens to come in, following his successful loan spell with the club. Even a homegrown goalkeeper to compete with Bernd Leno has been mooted, with Aaron Ramsdale at Sheffield United under serious consideration. No more elderly players looking for a last shot at glory on a big contract in the capital anymore.
The other thing that will likely please Arsenal fans is the versatility of those that have been linked. Ben White’s main role is as a centre back, however, he has also been known to understudy at right back and in defensive midfield. Tyler Adams is ostensibly a right-back, but has spent most of his time as a holding midfielder, even Tavares has played a right-back before covering at left-back too.
Even some of Arsenal’s midfield targets are exciting too. Bissouma and Neves are both capable of occupying different roles in the midfield and will likely be able to deputise where needed.
The creative players that have been mentioned around Arsenal in recent seasons such as Julian Brandt, Christopher Nkunku, Houssem Aouar, Emiliano Buendía and Martin Ødegaard are all capable of occupying many roles either on the flanks or deeper in midfield if necessary.
Positional versatility is a must in Mikel Arteta’s system, as proven last season. When Kieran Tierney was out injured, it was the role of Cédric Soares, a right back or Granit Xhaka, a central midfielder, to fill-in for the injured Scotsman. Though this bred mixed results, it was nevertheless an example of why Arteta favours certain players. Indeed, the versatility of Calum Chambers and Mohamed Elneny has likely explained why Arteta has persisted with the duo for so long.
Given how Arsenal’s formation changes fluidly when in and out of possession, the need for hybrid players has grown. Under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, Arteta saw first-hand just how important it is to have full-backs drop into the space in midfield when attacking, so as to prevent an overload in midfield in case of a counter-attack.
Given Arsenal’s creative woes for much of last season, Arsenal instead relied on “old faithful” or “19th century football” as José Mourinho once described it in a scathing post-match interview following a 1-1 draw at home to West Ham, which is to try the long ball over the top.
This too seemed to be a smart move. Both Xhaka and Thomas Partey are capable of hitting long passes over long distances with extraordinary precision, so too can David Luiz and Gabriel Magalhães (though not as well as Luiz), these means that the midfielders often drop into the heart of defence to begin an attack that exploits the explosive pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Gabriel Martinelli.
Unsurprisingly, this is something that Rúben Neves has done on countless occasions for Wolves and his penchant for a long-ball isn’t too shabby either. Given that Adams has played as a holding midfielder and that Neves can drop deep when needed, it seems to make perfect sense why Arsenal are targeting such players.
It will be a busy summer at the Emirates Stadium, even without the COVID-19 vaccination jabs taking place there. Plenty of deadwood and, regrettably, fan favourites will likely be shifted, but if Arsenal want to make their way back into European football next season, it seems that targeting youth players is the best way to do so, after all, it wasn’t a bad tactic last season, despite their appalling finish.
Arsenal have announced that Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos has re-joined German side, VfB Stuttgart on loan with an option to buy believed to be in the £5m region. The move sees Mavropanos, who joined Arsenal in January 2017, rejoin former Arsenal Head of Recruitment Sven Mislintat, who championed the Greek youngster’s signing for the club four years ago.
Mavropanos has endured something of a slothful time at the club. Initially signed as “one of the future” under Mislintat’s guidance, he soon blew Arsène Wenger away in training, who was so impressed with Mavropanos, that he refused to send him out on loan.
Since then, things have not looked all that promising for the youngster. Since joining from PAS Giannina, Mavropanos has made only 8 apperances in all competitions for the club in four years. Following a fairly uninspiring period under Unai Emery, Arsenal felt the youngster’s future was better served with a loan deal.
Mavropanos was subsequently loaned to 2. Bundesliga side, Nürnberg, where he played 12 games overall. Though his time was somewhat marred by injuries, there was a still a decent player to be seen when he was able to get on the pitch and it was for that reason that Arsenal extended Mavropanos’ deal before he left last summer to join VfB Stuttgart on loan.
Mavropanos’ loan spell at Stuttgart showed his maturity as a player and how much he can be of benefit to a team. But as with so many young players, Mavropanos’ time in football has been marred with injuries.
His time at Arsenal seems to have been cut short because of said injuries and Mikel Arteta clearly doesn’t seem to see as much of the good sides of the player as others do and with Rob Holding and William Saliba both looking likely to contend for the starting spot next year, not to mention the club’s vested interest in Brighton defender Ben White, Mavropanos would likely struggle for much game time.
It’s a shame to see a talented youngster leave, but it seems to be for the best. Mavropanos never fully settled at the club and there are likely other defenders that will be more important to the club in the future. Despite this, everyone obviously hopes that Mavropanos can kick on and show the world just how good he really is at Stuttgart.
A first for the Arseache blog is an interview with Chris Wheatley! Chris, is the Arsenal correspondent for football.london, having worked for Goal.com previously.
Chris’ extensive knowledge of transfers has helped a lot of Arsenal fans navigate the various twists and turns that only silly season can bring.
What is happening with Martin Ødegaard? Have Real Madrid decided how they want to use him and Arsenal still interested in him? Arsenal want to sign Ødegaard and talks are ongoing between Real Madrid and Arsenal. My personal view is that a deal can be done this summer, but it is one that could happen towards the end of the transfer window.
What exactly is Richard Garlick’s role at the club at the moment and how does it dovetail with Edu’s role as the Technical Director? Garlick is the Head of Football Operations. His role is similar to Dick Law’s, who used to be the contract negotiator at Arsenal and was responsible for all contract negotiations and involved at the final stage of transfers.
He’s highly respected within the game and has a vast contacts book from his time at West Bromwich Albion and in his role as Premier League Director of Football.
What other targets are there in the creative midfield role besides Ødegaard? Emiliano Buendía was a target earlier in the window before his move to Aston Villa and James Maddison has appeared as a potential option, although his price remains a sticking point.
Arsenal do have a longstanding interest in Lyon’s Houssem Aouar but it remains to be seen whether they come back in for him this summer.
Has anyone made a move for Willian and how likely is it that he will leave? It’s likely that he will leave but not certain by any means. The MLS is an option for Willian but a source told me recently that ‘he’s not finished in Europe’.
One to look out for this summer.
Will Maty Ryan return? If so, what does that mean for Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson, will he be loaned out? There is interest there but it looks like Arsenal are searching for homegrown options right now. Rúnarsson will probably be loaned out.
You mentioned in a tweet recently about Arsenal looking at the leadership team in the squad (Aubameyang, Lacazette, Bellerín et al), does this mean Arsenal will look at appointing a new captain or will they stick with Aubameyang Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the club captain and that is not expected to change for next season.
My prediction would be Kieran Tierney being part of the leadership team along with more experienced players like Pablo Marí and Mohamed Elneny.
It will be decided closer to the new season, though.
I’d like to thank Chris for his time and I’d also like to extend a personal thank you for everything else. Before starting this blog, Chris was one of the first people I reached out to for help and advice for starting my own blog and Chris, along with the wonderful Andrew over at Arseblog, were always available for help, guidance and general tips and for that I can’t thank them enough.
It also means a lot that he took the time out of his day to answer questions for a fan blog that barely has even 40 followers on Twitter, especially when he has such a busy day himself, so thanks Chris!
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.