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African football head: Does Albert Lokonga offer hope for Arsenal?

The Gunners’ new Africa star set a big record before the campaign, but the season did not start well for the Londoners

One of the most important talking points for the African Football HQ team before the new season was the excitement and anticipation for the campaign ahead for Arsenal’s Afrikaans stars.

In addition to heavyweights Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey, the Gunners also recruited Albert Sambi Lokonga, while Folarin Balogun is expected to play a major role in this term after signing a new contract in April.

There was a lot to be excited about, but it is fair to say that things were not planned during the first two games of the season.

Following the opening match of the campaign against Brentford – a runaway defeat for Mikel Arteta’s team – Arsenal were defeated by Chelsea at home in their second match on Sunday.

Romelu Lukaku and the Blues’ skill in the park rightfully dominated the headlines, but a second listless performance by their London rivals – and zero points for Mikel Arteta’s side after two games – will build up pressure on the Gunners.

There were few redemptive features to their performance, even Aubameyang’s return to action as a second half could not reduce the backlog.

Pepe was again anonymous on the right flank, while – with Partey still absent – the midfield of the Londoners did not have power and control.

Lokonga, who made his second start with Granit Xhaka, forgot one afternoon to forget because he could not tackle his opposing men Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, while he could not protect Cedric Soares from the rush of Marco Alonso not.

Defensively, it is clear that the Congolese-Belgian midfield needs time to come to this Arsenal team — waiting for the returning and new recruits — and adjusting to life in the Premier League after arriving from Anderlecht. It’s a massive step, and he needs both time … and a little more bulk … to truly thrive.

However, there is also reason for optimism.

His intelligence in possession is clear, while in the early stages there was some pleasant touch which showed his faltering, self-confidence and considerable technical ability.

In time – and ideally with Partey with him – Lokonga should develop into a midfield talent, although a constant climate of instability at the Emirates Stadium could make things even more difficult if he wants to establish himself.

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