he last time Albert Sambi Lokonga started a game for Arsenal, they were in the midst of a midfield crisis.
The situation now is not quite as dire as it was in January, when Lokonga was the only fit and available central midfielder, but Thomas Partey’s injury this week means the Belgian must once again step up for the Gunners.
Partey injured his thigh during Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace on Monday and scans have shown muscle damage.
The Ghanaian has not given up hope of playing again this season and, while he has a better chance of doing so than Kieran Tierney, it still looks unlikely.
“It’s what we have, it’s the numbers we have,” said boss Mikel Arteta.
“We’ve lost Kieran and we’ve lost Thomas now — and that’s it. With the players we have, we will keep trying like we have since the start of the season, but we never had a big squad, so we can’t find any excuses.”
The situation provides Lokonga with the opportunity to finish the campaign strongly after an indifferent few months.
It has been a season of two halves for the 22-year-old, who during the first five months got more minutes than he might have expected, due to Granit Xhaka being sidelined.
Since the turn of the year, though, it has been a different story, and Lokonga’s only Premier League start since then was against Burnley in January.
Despite his lack of minutes, the midfielder was named in Belgium’s squad last month — and that is testament to their faith in him.
Arsenal have similarly high hopes for the youngster and now he has nine games to show why.
A top-four finish remains in the Gunners’ hands as, while they are sat fifth, they are level on points with Tottenham immediately above them and have a game in hand on their north London rivals.
Lokonga’s return to the team could see a shift in formation against Brighton on Saturday.
Arsenal have been playing a 4-3-3 recently, but that has been reliant on Partey excelling at the base of their midfield.
Trusting Lokonga to do the same would be a tall order and, instead, Arteta may look to revert to a 4-2-3-1, playing the experienced Xhaka next to the Belgian in a two-man pivot.
It should give Arsenal a solid base and, at a time when their form is threatening to falter, that seems invaluable.