Mikel Arteta was able to experiment with Albert Sambi Lokonga as Arsenal clinched top spot in their Europa League group with a 1-0 win over FC Zurich.
With Mohamed Elneny available for selection once again after returning from a hamstring injury ahead of schedule, it was he who was handed the task of operating in the ‘Thomas Partey role’ at the base of the Gunners’ three-man midfield against the Swiss opposition on Thursday night.
As a result, Lokonga – who has filled in for the Ghana international this season as a number six – pushed higher up as one of the two midfield ‘8’s in the absence of the suspended Granit Xhaka and it’s safe to say the reaction to his performance has split many amongst the fanbase.
Now, football.london were in attendance at the Emirates Stadium and felt that whilst Lokonga struggled to impact the play further forward but shielded well in the first half, he was far better in the second half, especially once Partey had been introduced to proceedings.
Meanwhile, Arteta delivered an encouraging verdict on the 23-year-old’s display in north London: “I think everyone took the opportunity,” the Spaniard told reporters during his post-match press conference. “It’s true that we played him more there in pre-season.
“When we signed him, we had another idea – but in pre-season, he developed and played well in that position. Having to rest Thomas today, I think it was a good option.”
But what did some Arsenal fans think of Lokonga’s showing? With the January transfer window fast approaching, there has been talk of Arteta and technical director Edu targeting a new winger as well as bolstering their options in central midfield amid links to Youri Tielemans and Danilo.
Of course, if Lokonga can impress in his more natural role then he can save the club millions of pounds in the new year as he can challenge Xhaka for a starting berth during the second half of the season, whilst Elneny can continue filling in when Partey is unavailable or needs a rest.
That plan appears to sit well with a few Arsenal fans who think Lokonga had a good game against Zurich. @Goonerp8 said: “Too much talk on Lokonga for my liking. I think he had a decent game”, @olivertudge1 agreed: “Also Lokonga defo has a future as a number 8, was very passive first half but second half excellent. Couldn’t fault him” and @JackGAbela said: “I thought Lokonga had a much better game in that left sided 8 role. Not near Xhaka’s level but seemed much more composed in those more advanced areas.”
Although, others are of the opinion that Lokonga failed in his audition and as a result should be sold in January with @Odepass8 proposing a part-exchange with Barcelona for Frenkie de Jong: “We’ll give you Sambi Lokonga in swap deal for FDJ”, @afc_abdul said: “Lokonga played as an 8 but still he didn’t impress and @taophyc_AFC said: “Lokonga was absent in this match he needs a loan in January, played his favorite #8 role and was absolutely invisible in the match.”