The Gunners new African star got a big billing before the campaign, but the season hasn’t begun well for the Londoners
One of the key talking points for the African Football HQ team ahead of the new season was the excitement and anticipation for the campaign ahead for Arsenal’s African stars.
As well as heavyweights Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey, the Gunners have also recruited Albert Sambi Lokonga, while Folarin Balogun is expected to have a big part to play this term after signing a new contract in April.
There was much to be excited about, but it’s fair to say that things haven’t gone to plan during the first two matches of the season.
Following on from the opening game of the campaign against Brentford—an away defeat for Mikel Arteta’s side—Arsenal were then defeated by Chelsea at home in their second fixture on Sunday.
Romelu Lukaku and the Blues’ prowess across the park have rightfully dominated the headlines, but a second listless display from their London rivals—and zero points for Mikel Arteta’s side after two games—will heap the pressure on the Gunners.
There were few redeeming qualities to their performance, even Aubameyang’s return to action as a second-half substance couldn’t result in halving the deficit.
Pepe was again anonymous on the right flank, while—with Partey still absent—the Londoners’ midfield lacks power and control.
Lokonga, making his second start alongside Granit Xhaka, endured an afternoon to forget, as he failed to get to grips with his opposite men Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, while failing to protect Cedric Soares from the rampaging runs of Marco Alonso.
Defensively, it’s clear that the Congolese-Belgian midfielder needs time to settle into this Arsenal side—wait for the returnees and new recruits—and adapt to life in the Premier League after arriving from Anderlecht. It’s a massive step up, and he needs both time…and a bit more bulk…to truly thrive.
However, there’s reason for optimism too.
His intelligence in possession is evident, while there were some delightful touches during the early stages which showcased his swagger, confidence and considerable technical ability.
In time—and ideally with Partey alongside him—Lokonga should blossom into a quality midfield talent, although an ongoing climate of instability at the Emirates Stadium may make things a little trickier as he looks to establish himself.