Mikel Arteta has found Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka replacement amid huge Burnley decision – Football.London

Thomas Partey is Arsenal’s best midfielder. As far as hot takes go, that is one that belongs in the North Pole, but it is an undeniable fact.

While the Gunners’ other central options have a tendency to play slow, sideways passes, the Ghanaian’s fast and forward approach is unique at the Emirates.

It was on full display once more against Norwich as his line splitting ball to Bukayo Saka proved pivotal to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s decisive goal.

Although Mikel Arteta was reticent to say whether Partey would be starting the next match against Burnley following his return from injury, an extra week’s training at London Colney should have left the 28-year-old in a position where he’s ready to play from the off. This leaves the Spaniard with a big decision to make.

Many remember Partey as the out-and-out destroyer he was deployed as during his time at Atletico Madrid, but the Ghanaian was lured to North London on the promise of being able to show how much more he is than that.

Moments like the one against Norwich prove what he is capable of, but to truly demonstrate his box-to-box capabilities the 28-year-old needs a deeper presence alongside him in the Arsenal double pivot.

Thus far this has generally been Granit Xhaka, but with the Swiss international suspended for Saturday’s trip to Turf Moor, an alternative has to be found.

Mohamed Elneny is injured, so it’s going to be a straight shoot out between Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles for the role.

Of the two, it would seem the Belgian is the more suitable option.

Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles during a behind closed doors friendly for Arsenal (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles during a behind closed doors friendly for Arsenal (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

At just 21-years-of-age Sambi is still figuring out exactly what kind of central midfielder he is. Like Partey he is capable of the box-to-box roles, but has also excelled playing slightly deeper.

In his first interview after signing for the Gunners, the former Anderlecht captain gave an insight into how his coaches see him.

“I can play both. I can play both,” he said when asked which role Arsenal fans could expect to see him in.

“I can play as a six and I can play like a box to box. Nut yeah, people say that I’m better in the six position.”

From his early performances in North London so far, it’s safe to say his coaches might be right.

Against Norwich the average position Sambi took up was slap bang in the middle of the pitch, slightly behind the centre circle and in front of the back two.

Contrast this to the more left leaning positions normally adopted by Xhaka, and it’s clear to see what the Belgian brings in the role of the deep lying playmaker.

At times last season it seemed like Arsenal’s defence and attack were playing on opposite sides of a river without any way of making it across.

By December they averaged the Premier League’s fourth highest number of touches in their own defensive third, but just the 13th in the opposition third.

As a clear central presence though Sambi has shown he has the potential to be that bridge over the troubled water of the Gunners’ season.

Albert Sambi Lokonga of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at Emirates Stadium (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Albert Sambi Lokonga of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at Emirates Stadium (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal’s attempts to build from the back flowed through the 21-year-old who was the most passed to player by both Ben White and Gabriel (the centre back pairing for the day).

This is not exactly unexpected though. When Xhaka plays in the role, he regularly has the most touches as he is the focal point of the build up.

What was different though was the variety of his passing when he did receive it. The Belgian was as willing to play left to Kieran Tierney as he was to play in the opposite direction to Martin Odegaard (who spent much of the game operating in the right half spaces) delivering nine passes to both.

Normally Arsenal have a tendency to just go down the left to Tierney making them far easier to defend against.

This reduced predictability in Arsenal’s build up led them to fashion more shots than in any game since 2017 (30), as Norwich struggled to deal with the multiple threats.

For all his talents as a dynamic central midfield presence it’s difficult to imagine Maitland-Niles being able to perform the ‘number six’ role to such an equally high level, making Sambi wiser pick when it comes to this Saturday’s match at Turf Moor.

It’s difficult to know for certain after just three Premier League appearances, but with the mobility the Belgian possesses, then there is a chance he could supersede Xhaka in the deep lying role relatively soon.

Of course though at just 21-years-old Sambi is not perfect.

Norwich didn’t offer much to test his defensive abilities, but when his off the ball work was called into question against Chelsea in the home game prior, the former Anderlecht midfielder came up slightly short.

Get the latest Arsenal news straight to your inbox

It hasn’t been a great start for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta looks to arrest the slide

But what is great is that by signing up to our newsletter here, you’ll make sure you receive the best Gunners content including news, rumours, articles and fan opinions – direct into your inbox and all for free!

We also want to hear from you. Create an account here in just a few moments, so you can have your say on all things Arsenal, join the debate and take part in exclusive Q&As as well.

These though are kinks in his game that can be ironed out over time.

Thus far, injuries have robbed us of the chance to view the exciting potential that a Partey-Sambi double pivot in midfield has to offer.

If it goes well against Burnley on Saturday, then there is a chance we could be seeing it a whole lot more this season.

Rate article