BY HALF-TIME at Oxford, the Arsenal fans bemoaned that many of the fringe players simply are not of the quality required for the team to sustain its title challenge.

However, there seems to be one player singled out for criticism more than others, Albert Sambi Lokonga.

Albert Sambi Lokonga has struggled to make his mark at Arsenal

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Albert Sambi Lokonga has struggled to make his mark at ArsenalCredit: Zuma Press

The Belgian midfielder was not alone in under-performing but there are reasons why the concern is amplified.

Fabio Vieira is younger and in his first campaign, and it is obvious to the supporters what he may offer when he adds a bit of muscle and is more adapted to the enhanced physicality of English football.

Once supported by Granit Xkaka and Oleksandr Zinchenko in the second period, the young Portuguese showed his worth.

With Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny, we have two players who are universally accepted as not being quite at the level to play in Mikel Arteta’s first team, but both can step in and do a job, without seemingly being frustrated at their lack of minutes.

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With Sambi Lokonga, though, we have an entirely different situation.

The player himself has been vocal in his frustration, perhaps understandable if the reports are true that Arteta blocked a loan move to Burnley for a reunion with his old mentor Vincent Kompany.

However, from my perspective, the main issue with the young Belgian is that no one seems sure – the fans, the man himself or his coach – where his best position is.

Last season, in a more traditional 4-2-3-1, he played both the deeper and more advanced pivot, showing us glimpses of talent in the two roles, but shining in neither.

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Now, in the adapted 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3, Sambi Lokonga – or Arteta – has to decide whether he is cover for Thomas Partey or if he can handle the more advanced and creative role that Xhaka has made his own.

In the past, we have been blessed with cover players good enough to play anywhere in the midfield – Edu and Ray Parlour would be fabulous examples.

Either could come in for Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva, and often did, without any significant weakening of the team.

After the FA Cup win at Oxford, where the team’s performance improved after his withdrawal, I found it hard to decide what I felt was best for the player and the club.

Particularly as it is clear his manager sees the veteran Elneny as his first-choice cover for any Partey absence.

So, I decided to ask a few friends and conducted a Twitter poll, asking whether a loan might be an idea to improve Sambi Lokonga, as there is no doubt his confidence is low and he needs regular game time, or whether our supporters have seen enough, that he is not quite good enough and that Arsenal should look to sell.

The Belgian is not a clear No6 or a No8 which seems to be a problem

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The Belgian is not a clear No6 or a No8 which seems to be a problemCredit: Getty
Sambi Lokonga had little impact in the win at Oxford

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Sambi Lokonga had little impact in the win at OxfordCredit: Getty

The results are interesting and some of the comments more so, but more than 63 per cent of the 3,215 to vote see merit in loaning Sambi Lokonga for a season.

It would be hard to see Arsenal allowing a January exit without bringing in a more experienced replacement and it was no surprise to see Sambi Lokonga’s compatriot Youri Tielemans mentioned.

The argument being, and it is a strong one, that we know Leicester will accept a reasonable bid as he has just six months left on his contract, Tielemans is obviously keen, and he can play anywhere in the midfield.

Many of those in favour of the player being sent on loan to get the regular football and confidence he needs have suggested Burnley.

In part, this may be that they showed an interest last summer, but it is more that those fans see Sambi Lokonga thriving and getting his mojo back under Kompany, who entrusted him with the captaincy of Anderlecht at such a young age.

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Vincent Kompany could reignite his career at high-flying BurnleyCredit: PA

A few observed how well Charlie Patino is developing at Blackpool starting every week in the Championship.

Others suggested perhaps a loan to Ligue 1 in France might suit him, in the way it so obviously has for Folarin Balogun.

Aged 23, the would-be accountants in our fanbase reckon that should Sambi Lokonga thrive on loan, his sell-on value could easily increase to more than the £15million the club paid for him in 2021.

In that sense, the loan option is a sensible economic one, as
well as having merits for the improvement of the player.

It would allow Arteta and his staff to watch Sambi Lokonga playing regularly in one position and to decide for good if he can play a part in Arsenal’s short-term ambitions.

Lastly, and not surprisingly after so many false dawns and limp displays, 36 per cent have seen enough and favour the club looking to sell now.

The general observation, as stated earlier, is that Sambi Lokonga is neither one thing nor another, lacking the creativity to play at No8, or the physicality and game reading to play as a No6.

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I am sure Arteta, Edu and the staff are discussing this, just like the fans, and it will be fascinating to see what short-term plan is decided upon for Albert Sambi Lokonga.

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