Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal career hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride for the Swiss midfielder. Ups have almost always been followed by downs, a trajectory that has certainly been illustrated by his start to the season which saw the 29-year-old come close to leaving the Emirates Stadium.
Within weeks of a proposed switch to Roma, though, Xhaka had signed a long-term contract to stay at Arsenal. On top of this, he was named club captain, much to the chagrin of some fans who had seen the Swiss as the toxic embodiment of everything wrong with Arsenal in the post-Arsene Wenger age (Xhaka hasn’t helped himself with some of his conduct).
Xhaka then started the 2021/22 campaign as part of a Gunners team that lost their first three Premier League fixtures before growing, and shining, in wins over Norwich City, Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur. It was therefore rather galling for Xhaka that just as he looked to have found his role in Arteta’s midfield, he suffered a knee injury that will keep him sidelined for the next three months.
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This has been the way of things for Xhaka in North London, but his misfortune now presents an opportunity to Albert Sambi Lokonga to prove why Arsenal signed him this summer. The Belgian is now almost certain to receive significant game time over the coming weeks and he must make the most of it.
Signed by Arsenal from Anderlecht for an initial transfer fee of around £15m, Lokonga was deemed by many as one for the future. It’s certainly true that the 21-year-old still has a lot of developing to do, but this is a player who was the captain of one of Belgium’s biggest clubs last season.

Granit Xhaka

Image credit: Getty Images

Lokonga started 50 games in the Jupiler Pro League over the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons and is already a full international for Belgium, the number one ranked national team in the world. The 21-year-old might not be the finished article, but he isn’t completely untested at the top level either.
What’s more, Lokonga has already shown flashes of his ability in the games he has played for Arsenal this season. The young Belgian might have started two of the three defeats Arsenal suffered to start their 2021/22 Premier League campaign, but he was hardly to blame for those results. In fact, Lokonga was one of the few bright spots from these games.
Even when things were going against Arsenal earlier in the season, Lokonga was always keen to take the ball. He demonstrated the sort of courage and bravery that Arteta will need in the centre of the pitch in Xhaka’s absence. Lokonga is also as dynamic off the ball as he is on it, something that should keep Arsenal’s high press just as intense. Xhaka carries a slightly greater goal threat with his powerful shots from distance, but the profile of the two players are generally similar.

Albert Sambi Lokonga playing for Arsenal in the Premier League against Tottenham Hotspur.

Image credit: Getty Images

If Lokonga suffered for anything in his first two starts of the season, it was for the lack of an experienced, assured presence alongside him to provide some security. Now, he would have that in the form of Thomas Partey, whose return to fitness has been a catalyst for a return uptick in the Gunners’ form.
With Thomas as a safety net, and the ever-developing centre back pairing of Gabriel Magalhaes also in behind, the structure might now be in place for Lokonga to thrive as an Arsenal player. Arteta would rather that Xhaka was still fit, but there could be an inadvertent benefit in how the Swiss midfielder’s injury will push one of his teammates to the fore.
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