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Albert Sambi Lokonga transfer to Arsenal nearly complete

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It’s a question of when, not if, at this point.

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RSC Anderlecht v KRC Genk - Jupiler Pro League Championship Play-Offs Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Arsenal are dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” on Albert Sambi Lokonga’s transfer from Anderlecht to the Emirates. Per reports, the 21-year old Belgian international took his medical today outside of the U.K. to potentially avoid being subjected to a COVID-19 quarantine, and there has been no indication that the exam turned up anything that might scupper the deal. The Gunners are expected to shell out £14M plus £3M in add-ons for the transfer. Anderlecht reportedly have a sell-on clause as well.

There are conflicting reports as to when Lokonga will join the team. French reports suggest he could join Arsenal in Scotland. Dutch reports speculate that he might have to wait until the Gunners travel to the U.S. It all hinges on what COVID protocols he has to follow.

Buying Lokonga strikes me as a very good piece of business. Arsenal are acquiring him young at least as far as full professionals go and for a reasonable price — that’s the type of buy the Gunners need. Arsenal are a financial middleweight and would do well to continue to follow the “Dortmund / Leicester model” of buying players before their prime and selling some of them for big money a few years later.

Lokonga is a straight backup for Thomas Partey, and the two are remarkably similar. He’s a strong ball-progressor, both dribbling and passing, but his defensive numbers are pedestrian. I think that’s more because at Anderlecht his role was to get the ball up the pitch rather than win it back. He’ll have to do both at Arsenal, where (we suspect) Mikel Arteta wants to play with a single-pivot in a 4-1-4-1.

I expect Lokonga to get most of his minutes next season in the Carabao and FA Cups and coming off the bench in the Premier League. Had Arsenal made the Europa League, he would have been a nailed-on starter for the group stage, but perhaps having a lighter schedule well help the young man adjust to a new country, language, and league. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a handful of Premier League starts, especially against weaker opposition. And even though we think he’s being brought in primarily as a backup for Partey, he might get some playing time in the midfield four as a secondary ball progression option that gives Emile Smith Rowe positional and creative freedom.