Last name: Sambi Lokonga
First name: Albert-Mboyo
DOB: 22/10/1999 ( 21 y.o. )
Birth country: Belgium
Matches played: 33
Min. per match: 88.9
Goals scored: 3
Assists: 3 (xA 3.25)
Yellow cards: 4
Red cards: 1 Arsenal have reportedly agreed a deal with Anderlecht for their 21-year-old captain Albert Lokongna, for around €17.5m plus add-ons. He had an impressive season in 2020/21 and had been linked with Arsenal for some time now. The deal looks like it's finally going to be done, putting some Arsenal fans at ease but because he played his football in the Belgium First Division, it's understandable that many fans may not know too much about Lokonga's game. This scout report, in the form of tactical analysis, will try to break down his strengths and how he could possibly fit in for Arsenal. My prediction would be that he doesn't start right away for the gunners, but it's not to say this will not be a great signing for the North London team.
Looking at Lokonga's profile and playing style will help us understand what the 21-year-old is good at and if his playing traits can affect Arteta's Arsenal over the years to come. And a place to start would be to identify where exactly on the pitch he likes to operate. Anderlecht played 39% of their games using a 4-4-2 formation, where Lokonga typically played on the right side of central midfield. The other two formations Anderlecht used more frequently in the 2020/21 season was a 4-2-3-1 (19%), a formation Mikel Arteta switched to last season. The Belgian side also used a 4-3-3 (15%), a tactic familiar with Arteta and one he said he plans to use. If Arteta decides to use a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, Lokonga should not be unfamiliar with the shape, at least.
Lokonga heatmap from 2020/21 Belgium First Division A
This heat map shows he been pretty busy in midfield, having operated in just about all central areas between the two boxes. Lokonga is quick, fit and agile, and he uses his physical abilities on the pitch, something Arsenal may have been missing in midfield. But there's much more in Lokonga's locker than just his physical ability. He's an active passer and a player who likes to progress the ball up the pitch, which will move on to next.
Ball Progressing Traits
Lokonga played an important role for Anderlecht in their build-up stages from deep. He has a good passing range, which we'll talk about a bit later, but he also posses dribbling ability that helps his side progress up the pitch. Lokonga can be seen on various occasions, just before collecting the ball, attempting to read the situation before attempting his next move. His physical attributes also benefit his excellent on the ball skills too. The 21-year-old is somewhat a deep-lying playmaker with fewer defensive responsibilities which lay on his midfield partner(s). He likes to receive the ball from deep, and along with his technical skills on the ball, he uses his agility and speed to escape from pressure or tight spaces and progresses possession. Lokonga attempted 3 dribbles and completed 2.2 progressive runs per 90 in the Belgian top league. At Arsenal, that would rank him 1st with attempt dribbles and 2nd with progressive runs amongst the midfielders.
Here, Lokonga comes deep to collect the ball from the Anderlecht goalkeeper from a goal-kick. He has, by this point, already scanned over his left shoulder whilst picking up the ball inside his own box to read the situation.
Once he has collected the ball, he lifts his head immediately to assess his options again. As the Antwerp player has committed to pressing Lokonga, he may have sensed that beating him with a dribble was on.
As the two Antwerp players get tight to Lokonga, he uses his technical skills on the ball and the physical attributes to beat the two men that pressed on either side of him.
Lokonga gets the beating of both players and now has a passing option ahead of him. If the pass is made, he's effectively taken 4 Antwerp players out of the game. Instead, he continues to dribble with the ball near the halfway before attempting a defence-splitting pass. With Anderlecht chasing the game at this point, he may have attempted to force a chance for his side to get back in the game.
This trait can be effective for Arsenal when or if he does play. With Arsenal building up from the back, they will have a player able to beat those who choose to press high, trying to prevent Arsenal from progressing. He uses his body well. He can draw in fouls to release pressure. And when he's travelling from central midfield to collect the ball, he can attract an opponent to him to create space for his teammates to roam into.
The downside about Lokonga travelling to collect the ball is that he's often facing his own goal. This leaves little room for error with his first touch, especially with the game being quicker and possibly more aggressive in the Premier League. The 21-year-old isn't the finished article, and at times, his first touch can let him down.
When looking at the passing charts in the Belgium top-tier, Lokonga doesn't stick out in any category. He is top 5 with passes into the final third (365), highlighting his progressive play. But there are two things that I find interesting about Lokonga. The first would be his long-range passing and frequency in which he's attempting them. This seems like something he's adding to his game as he develops. Comparing to his 19/20 season stats, he attempted 2.54 long-passes per 90 with a 48.3 accuracy percentage. In the 20/21 season, he attempted 5.18 long-passes per 90 with a 60.3 accuracy percentage. So, not only is he attempting more long passes, suggesting he's trying to add that to his game, his accuracy has also increased, which tells me that he's also improving in this area. Many of these long passes have been to switch play or an attempt to get the ball into the patch of an advanced player making a darting run.
Here, he's spotted his offensive full-back on the move and played a successful long pass into his path. For Arsenal, Kieran Tierney plays as an attacking full-back on the left and could thrive on passes like this.
This screenshot captures Lokonga's vision and decision making. As touched on before, he's a good scanner, and here, he saw his striker make a move between the two central defenders and plays a long through pass into the striker's path. This move ended in a goal and Lokonga getting an assist.
And in this final screenshot, Lokonga's plays a long ball over the top to his pacey striker, attempting to beat Club Brugge's high defensive line. Again, this shows good vision and awareness. Though the pass was completed, it wasn't perfect, and the Anderlecht striker had to stretch to get his shot off once he met the ball.
His long passing isn't perfect, or near-excellent but the 21-year-old is certainly developing in this area and can become an effective long-range passer for Arsenal. The second thing that interested me about Lokonga's passing is his technique to trick an opponent with a pass. Some may call it 'Disguise Passing'. It's a technique where he shape's his body as if he's about to make a pass in one direction but passes in another, outwitting his opponents. This can be very useful to break lines and also to keep possession for the team.
*white line represents the pass that his body shape suggests the pass will go. the yellow line represents the disguised pass made*
This image captures the Genk left defender anticipating the pass out wide because of Lokonga's body shape. The disguised pass is then made inside for the attacker to go through on goal.
In this example. he's shaped as if he's going to play the ball into feet, but instead, he plays a well-weighted through ball into the attacking full-back taking 3 players out of the game with one pass.
And in these shots, he's opened up his body as if he's going to play a simple pass with his left foot to his teammate on the edge of the box. He instead plays a chipped through ball into the path of an attacking player, setting him up for a volley. This attack ended with the defender blocking the shot.
Generally, Lokonga likes to dictate play with short and quick passing that keeps the team ticking. He has the vision to spot a defence-splitting pass but his technique isn't always there to execute that action. He attempts 55.35 passes per 90 with an 87.7% success rate, an increased number of passes from the season before, suggesting he's becoming more influential. The Belgian First Division is a good standard of football but, its not the Premier League. He may be used to having a few seconds on the ball, not that he takes too many touches, but it could take time for any player to get used to the little time you have on the ball in the Premier League and the intensity in which your opponents tries to close you down.
Statistically, nothing jumps out for Lokonga but you must take Anderlecht's off-the-ball approach into consideration. Anderlecht aren't a pressing side, they allow *on average* 12.52 passes before making a defensive action, making their PPDA below the league's average. Interestingly, Arsenal allow 13.42 so Lokonga may not have to do too much adapting when it comes to Arsenals off-the-ball work. The ex-Anderlecht captain won 64.4% of his 5.52 defensive duels per 90, making him one of the more successful midfielders in winning the ball in the Belgian First Division. He does, however, complete 4.86 interceptions per 90. His defensive awareness isn't bad and he uses his physical attributes to his advantage. Because of his quick acceleration and agility, he does well covering, especially for his right full-back. His long legs, though, enable him to cover more space to make interceptions.
We can see here how he can use his long legs effectively. The Antwerp player looks as if he has an easy pass infield, but Lokonga's left leg is able to eat up space, intercept the pass, and set Anderlecht on the counter-attack.
Another example can be seen here against Club Brugge. Lokonga has positioned himself between two passing options where he can use his long legs to intercept either pass. The pass was eventually played to the left of Lokonga, where he stretches with his left leg and successfully won the ball back for his side.
And here, he leaves the Genk defender with a passing option infield, knowing that he can move in and intercept if the pass is attempted. As the pass is made, that triggers Lokonga to then press and make his move. He successfully intercepts and puts Anderlecht in a 3v2 situation against Genk's defence.
This would certainly be welcomed at Arsenal. You could compare this side of his game to Partey's, in that he uses his body and physical attributes smartly to win the ball back for his side and a midfield with the two could make it very difficult to play through the lines, though, a midfield two of Partey and Lokonga isn't likely in the very near future.
But, just like most players in his age group, there's still a lot of developing to do. At times, he may be too eager to win the ball back and give away a foul but just like most of his slight concerns, this isn't a red flag and something that could be coached through both experience and the training pitch.
To conclude this scout report (my very first!), I believe Albert Lokonga is a good match for Arsenal but one that may be for the future. He's technically sound, has a good physical profile and can do a competent job in winning the ball back for his side. He's certainly not the finished article and can display 'raw' moments but this could all be worked on. His future is bright. He's mobile so in theory, the speed of the Premier League may not be too much of an issue. A lot of teams now play with a press and his ability to beat pressing players is always going to be huge in modern-day football. His mobility, stretchy legs and defensive awareness also allow him to make interceptions and get his team back on the ball, then, his side can either counter or rest depending on the tactical situation. But that wraps this scout report, I hope you have enjoyed it. Please consider supporting the site @ Patreon or via Donation button (at the top right of the site) only if you wish! It's most important that you have enjoyed this article. Thank you for reading and speak to you soon.
Credit Wyscout for stats and in-game pictures