Premier League • England

‘Not quite ready’ – Martin Keown delivers verdict on sore thumb in Arsenal squad

Former Arsenal player Martin Keown

Former Arsenal player Martin Keown pictured at the Emirates before Gunners match

Arsenal legend Martin Keown believes Albert Sambi Lokonga is ‘not quite ready’ to excel under Mikel Arteta at the Emirates.

The central midfielder came through the ranks at Belgian side Anderlecht before making his first-team debut in December 2017. He went on to appear 78 times for the club in all competitions, registering three goals and seven assists.

Lokonga impressed scouts both in Belgium and elsewhere. He soon became a part of the Belgium U21 squad and also attracted transfer interest from Arsenal.

The 22-year-old, now a full Belgium international, signed for the Gunners in July 2021. Arsenal spent just over £17million to capture Lokonga from his boyhood team.

He made his Premier League debut in the 2-0 loss to Brentford on the opening day of the campaign. The player also featured in the subsequent defeat to Chelsea and lost his starting spot after another sub-par display.

Lokonga spent plenty of time on the bench in league fixtures between early December and mid-March. He got a few opportunities in April, featuring in three consecutive matches against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton.

Martin Keown responds to player’s poor form

Unfortunately for Lokonga, these outings coincided with Arsenal’s three defeats. That meant Arteta changed things up for the trip to Chelsea on Wednesday.

The coach went with Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny in the centre of the pitch, and it paid off. Arsenal ran out 4-2 winners at Stamford Bridge to get their top-four hopes back on track.

Lokonga sticks out like a sore thumb among Arsenal’s summer transfers. Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu are all impressing. Even Nuno Tavares looks more settled than his team-mate from Belgium.

Albert Sambi Lokonga of Arsenal

During an interview with Stadium Astro, Keown was asked about Lokonga’s exclusion and his replacement, Elneny.

The former defender said: “It was the right call to bring Elneny into the team. Lokonga looks as if he is not quite ready, yet.

“They have an array of players, [Mateo] Guendouzi* and [Lucas] Torreira are out on loan. Elneny was kept here for a reason.

“Obviously, Arteta doesn’t quite believe in [Lokonga]. Lokonga hasn’t taken the opportunity, and Arteta has gone back to Elneny. I don’t think he has ever let Arteta down.”

Egypt international Elneny is likely to leave north London when his contract expires in June. But he could play an important role in the final few weeks of the season.

*It must be noted Guendouzi’s loan spell at Marseille became permanent on March 1.

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