Oleksandr Zinchenko provided a masterclass in the 0-0 Newcastle United draw last week leaving the fanbase in awe. Making everything tick through him, they controlled large spells of the game thanks to him.
Zinchenko has shown his importance to this team immediately since coming in the summer, slotting in seamlessly the inverted fullback role. However, injury niggles meant he would go on to make an appearance in only 59% of Arsenal’s Premier League games so far.
There aren’t much stylistically similar replacements in world football, let alone in the Arsenal squad but his substitutions did good all things considered.
Tierney/Tomiyasu deputised well in his absence with Takehiro Tomiyasu proving to be more of an on-the-game basis type of solution due to his duel-winning ability and defensive security. Kieran Tierney took a little to start growing in the role but the progress he made is clear to see. He doesn’t fill the middle just to make the numbers in there now, he’s an active solution. Scanning shoulders constantly, seeing passing options before the ball comes to him and counter-pressing well.
You could argue he’s more of a box-to-box type of player when he inverts compared to Oleksandr Zinchenko, causing chaos in there with his engine and energy. Normally, control and pausa is something that’s a bit more difficult to ingrain into someone’s game whose natural instinct is to bomb into everything he does.
This is why Zinchenko is special. Control, calmness and technical excellence in everything he does.
For who else in the world can you say that they control the tempo of the game from left-back? He makes the midfield his own. But that’s not an easy task, far from it. He obviously cannot invert all the time as his position is still that of a left-back so the timing of when to fill the midfield is crucial. And he does it so, so well.
He’s teasing markers to try and press him with delicate touches and turns all game long and takes you closing him down as almost an insult to his technical ability. He truly comes alive in those deep areas but what’s interesting to note is that his level of control drops minimally as he pushes up the field which is a testament to his great decision making.
In the game versus Newcastle, he shown all of his line breaking ability, picking Xhaka in acres of space multiple times across the game.
Are these receiving positions, in this specific type of game betters suited to a different profile of player than Xhaka and has he reached the ceiling in this role? That’s a discussion for another article but he still remains a standard in the eleven for now, enjoying a wonderful season so far.
You’ll get the occasional loose or a cutout ball from him but for the job he does and the risks he successfully takes, it’s understandable.
1 – Oleksandr Zinchenko led all players in @Arsenal vs @NUFC for…— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 4, 2023
Passes Completed – 82
Final Third Passes – 37
Forward Passes – 24
Passes Completed ‘Between the Lines’ – 14
Passes Forward Under Pressure – 11
This brings me to my next point. Surrendering some physicality and the occasional 1v1 situations wide is a fair trade off for the level of control he brings to the table. He’s a top counter presser on top of that as well, which he had to learn to add to his skillset as City relies on technicians who aren’t overly physical all across the team and winning the ball back immediately is crucial.
The level of control in his game is brilliant but most stems from his high technical level on the ball. You fully feel it in his twists and turns on the ball but also in the small things like plucking the ball out of thin air and laying it off first time to a teammate or finding a solution in a crowded space. You sometimes think to yourself that the weight on the ball in his passes couldn’t be more perfect in moments.
All in all, Arsenal fans can be very pleased they got a player like him in the squad as the left side/midfield balance depends on him and not only in the present but especially when Arteta decides to be more adventurous when introducing a new player in Xhaka’s role in the near future. Hopefully, his injury worries are past him and we can once again see him get some type of continuity in his games now.