There may be three weeks left to go, but Arsenal have already been very active this transfer window. The arrivals of Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Matt Turner, Marquinhos and Fabio Vieira have strengthened Mikel Arteta’s squad considerably as they seek to finish inside the top four.
Edu’s work will not stop there though. The Gunners current primary focus is on outgoings, with Pablo Mari and Runar Alex Runarsson nearing the exit door, but there is still hope that they can bring in more players before September 1. “We are really active as you can see with ins and outs,” Arteta told reporters ahead of last week’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. “Everything is still open, it’s a long window. A lot has happened. It’s incredible how much business the club has already done across the Premier League and it shows how competitive this is. It’s not gonna stop that.”
One of the players being targeted is Youri Tielemans who football.london understands Arsenal have a long-term interest in. The Belgian has been heavily linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium all summer, but now it appears as though a transfer is far from certain.
Tielemans has just one year remaining on his contract with Leicester City which means that the Gunners are in no great rush to sign him. As things stand they believe they are the main contenders for the 25-year-old’s signature and therefore are willing to wait in order to drive the price down, and could even be willing to leave it until next summer to sign him on a free. Part of the reason for this patience is the options that the club already have at their disposal.
Despite spending much of last season playing as a six, Albert Sambi Lokonga has played much of his recent football with Arsenal in the more advanced eight role. Throughout pre-season the Belgian starred in this position, grabbing a goal and an assist in limited playing time throughout the Gunners’ tour of the United States. His efforts drew praise from manager Mikel Arteta.
“We are trying, where he feels comfortable, where he can develop in the best possible way,” the Spaniard told football.london last month. “He’s really comfortable playing in that position, and we want to try and see what he can bring in that position, as well. It’s true that now we are missing as well Emile and Fabio there, so that position we’re a little bit short, and he’s done well.”
Although he has been at Arsenal for over a year, you do get the feeling that the club are still figuring Lokonga out. The Belgian was initially viewed as the long-term back up to Thomas Partey, but his recent displays in a more advanced role have impressed many at London Colney. For his part, the 22-year-old simply wants the chance to express himself on the pitch.
“What I want is to feel free on the pitch – I want freedom on the pitch,” he said in a recent interview with the Counter Attack podcast. “Then you will get the best of Sambi – you will see the real Sambi.”
Given the discipline required to play as a number six in Arteta’s current system it’s safe to say that his best bet of achieving that would probably be in a more advanced role. Regardless of which position he ends up in, Lokonga appears likely to spend next season with Arsenal. There have been reports linking him with a move to AC Milan in recent days, but the player is keen to push on with the Gunners this season, and Arteta has no desire to let him go.
Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard are the club’s first choice eights at the current moment in time, but with Europa League group matches and early Carabao Cup rounds to prove himself, Lokonga will surely be hopeful of establishing himself further in the first team this campaign. When you consider that Fabio Vieira and Emile Smith Rowe are options to play in those positions as well, then it’s difficult to see where Tielemans fits in at this current moment in time.
The Belgian is of course an excellent player who would bring much needed quality and depth to a position where Arsenal have been found lacking in previous seasons. But having invested so heavily in Lokonga as recently as last summer, the Gunners may be tempted to wait before making their sixth signing of the summer.