SOCCER

Arsenal have already secured Thomas Partey ‘replacement’ with £17.2m signing despite criticism – Tom Canton

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There’s something that I think a lot of Arsenal fans suffer from sometimes, especially during the transfer window. It is a process by which the possibility of signing a new player will supersede all possible avenues for existing talent to be considered.

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Arsenal supporters, I urge you to reflect on ‘new toy syndrome’. Transfers are exciting, evocative and above all stressful. From the perspective of someone whose life has been almost spent discussing the potential ins and outs of Arsenal, it’s quite an experience.

However, the one thing that I have always found affecting the opinions of some regarding the club’s existing players is the possibility of a new one taking their place. Arsenal’s central midfielder is one such position where this has dominated and has come at the expense of the current crop of options.

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Granit Xhaka is a flawed player, there’s no debating that. But the desire to see a player with fewer fouls has led to a significant lack of appreciation for what Xhaka has done really well and consistently throughout his Arsenal career.

Thomas Partey was signed in 2020 and injuries have plagued him. Yet, instead of considering adding a competitor to his role, the word “replacement” seems to be retained long before anything else.

Partey was our best player in 2022 until his season-ending affliction. But for some reason, in the eyes of some, it is necessary to get rid of the Ghanaian and bring in someone who can play a whole season without any injury. Which, by the way, is impossible to guarantee.

Partey himself should be the warning. He barely missed a game before arriving at the Gunners, but he has been sidelined for more than five times as many games through injury compared to all of his absences of the same type combined before his move north from London.

That’s where signing Albert Sambi Lokonga in 2021 comes in. Bought for a meager, in today’s market, £17.2m, he wasn’t meant to be the midfield savior of Arsenal.

A hungry young player with leadership qualities from his time as captain at Anderlecht. He came in and shone. He was the club’s best midfielder until he was dropped for games against Manchester United and Everton.

Xhaka’s return from a serious knee injury and the presence of Partey, with no European action to offer more games, ruled the Belgian out of the squad. He had to play one-off games and when Partey disappeared in April, the more experienced Mohamed Elneny was preferred. Rightly, it turned out that the Egyptian exceeded expectations.

Yet for some reason Lokonga’s performances in the first four months of the season have been forgotten. Now Arsenal have to ‘replace’ Partey according to some. No.

With the advantage of the Europa League group stages, Lokonga should again get more regular minutes. Not to mention the increase in Premier League substitutions from three to five.

He is a kid noted by Roberto Martinez and Thierry Henry of the Belgian national team, Vincent Kompany and the clubs who have faced the Gunners, including Napoli, for his signing in 2021. Lokonga may not be ‘ready’ to be Arsenal’s starter, but how on earth he gets there without playing for us, I just don’t know.

The midfield remains a key area that needs strengthening but Youri Tielemans won’t stray away from Lokonga, nor will Oleksandr Zinchenko. Partey is the perfect guide for Lokonga, and the position is there to be learned if given the chance. And it should be.

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