Mikel Arteta may have dropped a major hint over his latest undroppable after Arsenal draw – Football.London

Mikel Arteta had one big decision to make ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Brighton and Hove Albion.

With Granit Xhaka ruled out for the next three months with a knee injury, all eyes were on how the Gunners manager would react to the midfielder’s enforced absence.

And thanks to some shrewd deals in the summer transfer window, Arsenal are better equipped to cope without the divisive 29-year-old now than they would have been last season.

But ahead of facing Brighton, the question was would Arteta revert back to the 4-3-3 system that he’s used in recent weeks, or stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked wonders in the North London Derby win over Tottenham Hotspur?

The answer was the latter and it meant £15m summer signing Albert Sambi Lokonga got the nod instead of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny to partner Thomas Partey in central midfield.

For many Arsenal fans on social media, it was the correct decision as for once Arteta’s lineup was greeted with a positive reaction from those on Twitter.

That was most likely down to the fact that many supporters think Lokonga can be the long-term perfect midfield partner for Partey so there was a tinge of excitement to see them start together at the Amex Stadium.

With that said, the Belgium international appeared to have passed the ‘Xhaka replacement’ test with flying colours judging by comments from his manager.

“I think he did really well. I think he had one of the best performances of the players on the pitch,” Arteta said in his post-match press conference. “He shows a lot of character and all the time good positions.



Albert Sambi Lokonga battles for the ball with Pascal Gross during Arsenal's match with Brighton at the Amex Arena. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
Albert Sambi Lokonga battles for the ball with Pascal Gross during Arsenal’s match with Brighton at the Amex Stadium (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think his defensive work and understanding is getting better. It was a really difficult game because it was all the time one-vs-one duels in the middle of the pitch and it’s not the game that really suits him the most.

“But I think considering the circumstances he did really well.”

This glowing verdict, especially about being one of the best performers in a game that doesn’t suit him, may suggest that Arteta has found his latest Arsenal undroppable.

With Xhaka set to miss the next three months of action, there is a chance for Lokonga to nail down a place in the Gunners’ engine room and make it almost impossible for the Switzerland international to reclaim his place when fit.

Arteta said last week that Xhaka’s injury was a chance for someone to step up and take their chance.

“Obviously it’s really bad news personally for Granit because a couple of incidents already this season – with COVID, with the suspension and now with a long term injury,” the Arsenal manager admitted. “But he’s a strong man, he will use this time to focus on other things and I’m sure he will be back in the right place when he’s back.

“But he’s a big player for us, he’s very important and he will be missed. But other players have to step in.”

Lokonga might just have done exactly that against Brighton to become the latest member of the Spaniard’s core group that already includes Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes, Kieran Tierney, Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

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