Mikel Arteta banking on Anfield redemption for Albert Sambi Lokonga as Arsenal face midfield crisis

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Mikel Arteta banking on Anfield redemption for Albert Sambi Lokonga as Arsenal face midfield crisis
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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Mikel Arteta
    Mikel Arteta
    Spanish association football player and manager
  • Albert Sambi Lokonga
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The last time Albert Sambi Lokonga played at Anfield, the Arsenal midfielder had an evening to forget.

Lokonga lasted longer than Nuno Tavares did at Nottingham Forest on Sunday, but after a difficult 53 minutes he was hooked by Mikel Arteta as the Gunners slumped to a 4-0 defeat.

After his side were swept away in November, Arteta spoke about the match being a lesson for his young side and an example of the level they must reach to compete with the established elite in the Premier League.

Four months into his Arsenal career, it was a painful experience for Lokonga as he was suffocated by Fabinho to the point his passing radar went astray.

Tonight, the 22-year-old returns to Merseyside and he is set to be tasked with holding the Arsenal midfield together, with Arteta down to the bare bones in that department.

Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey are at the Africa Cup of Nations, while Granit Xhaka is a doubt following a positive test for Covid. If Xhaka misses out tonight, it would leave Lokonga as the only fit, senior central midfielder available, but Arteta is confident the Belgian is ready to step up.

“We are preparing the game in three ways, like we always do,” he said. “Mentally, how prepared you are to get that game, what are your thoughts about what is going to happen, how convinced [you are], the belief, the level of confidence that you have.

“Physically, you are prepared to do that with what your preparation has been like, and what you expect from that game. And then tactically, technically, [you look at] the way you have to compete in that match and how much clarity you get in the game to do that.

“As we always do, we will try to get the players prepared in the best possible way so they can express themselves. They are the ones who have to play.”

After this Carabao Cup semi-final first leg was postponed a week ago due to Covid and fitness issues at Liverpool, it is Arsenal who are now dealing with those problems.

Albert Sambi Lokonga, 22, is currently Arsenal’s only fit and available senior central midfielder (AFP via Getty Images)
Albert Sambi Lokonga, 22, is currently Arsenal’s only fit and available senior central midfielder (AFP via Getty Images)

They were without nine first-team players for Sunday’s third-round loss at Forest and Arteta is again set to be without Emile Smith Rowe (groin) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (calf) tonight.

Arsenal are likely to name a strong team, such is Arteta’s desire for his young group to win silverware, but his lack of options in midfield has forced him to consider defender Ben White as an option further forward.

“He has played there [midfield] before [for Brighton],” said Arteta. “That’s one of the positive things with Ben, that he has the capacity to play in different roles.”

There were reports today that Martin Odegaard is also set to miss out after not being involved in preparations for the game this week, but either way Lokonga is set to be at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield tonight.

He is not alone in having struggled at Anfield — another Arsenal midfielder, Dani Ceballos, remarked in 2019 after his first game against Liverpool how they “take the air from you”.

Lokonga will be out to prove he has learned from his experience and all eyes will be on him against Jurgen Klopp’s side tonight.

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