Why Oleksandr Zinchenko is perfect for Arsenal

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Famously, I’m not very good at keeping secrets. I’ve made it quite well known how massive of a fan I am of Oleksandr Zinchenko, and how I think of him as one of the most criminally underrated footballers around. The Ukrainian international is one of the most versatile footballers on the planet, and should be set to take his career to new heights at Arsenal, under the influence of Pep Guardiola’s former assistant coach Mikel Arteta. Arsenal’s transfer business this summer has been shrewd and accomplished, and now after signing both Zinchenko and Jesus from the Sky Blues, Arsenal could very well be on their way toward building back toward Premier League title acclaim. Here is our analysis of why Zinchenko is perfect for Arsenal, and why the signing may be the start of something special for the Gunners in 2022-23.

ZINCHENKO’S STYLE OF PLAY

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Oleksandr Zinchenko, as stated in the introduction, is one of the most versatile footballers on the planet. He can play left-back, as he often did for Manchester City, often times in more of an ‘Inverted Fullback’ role. Taking part in central build-ups and exploiting half-spaces for fun, the Ukrainian knows his way around the centre of the park and is more than capable of playing in midfield, as he does for his native Ukraine. But the 25-year-old’s versatility doesn’t stop there. Under the influence of Andriy Shevchenko, the City fullback starred as a left-wing-back for his national team, destroying Sweden in the Round of 16 with a phenomenal display. Such an intelligent footballer with an exceptional awareness of his surroundings, the Ukrainian could easily play in a number of different roles for Arsenal, and find his home in a completely new role from where he left off.

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My love for Zinchenko partially stems around this exceptional versatility, and partially around his intelligent footballing brain. He reads situations on a football pitch almost as though he’s playing with 3D goggles, picking up perfect pockets of space to receive, and always finding that killer pass to set the stage alight. Importantly for any club picking up his services, he’s also just an incredibly passionate individual, who clearly loves the game with the whole of his heart. I’ve seen many devastated faces in my time of watching football, but none stand out more than the Ukrainian’s tearful eyes after losing the 2021 UEFA Champions League Final to Chelsea, utterly unable to withstand the pain from the whistle to the moment he grabbed a runners-up medal. He lives and breathes for every kick of the football and that should prove to be an essential characteristic in driving Arsenal on and bringing more passion, exuberance and exhilaration to Mikel Arteta’s team.

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Zinchenko’s versatility extends beyond just positional adaptability to his delightful set of skills across the pitch. He’s an exceptional creator, and one of the best progressors in his position. In fact, his 0.35 assists per 90 stands out in the top 1% of full-backs in the world. The same could be said of his goal-creating actions (0.76 per 90!), and both progressive passes (8.02) and progressive carries (9.30 per 90). In a sense, his attacking numbers skyrocket so high over all other fullbacks because he could be considered, well, not a fullback. But that would be the wrong way of looking at this glass-half-full equation. The 25-year-old is an exceptional attack-minded wing wizard, capable of being pushed higher up the pitch in any type of role, and facilitating attacks both from deep and the final third. But if you want to deploy him as a fullback, such as when Kieran Tierney finds his way out of full fitness, you bet your life that Zinchenko would be capable of fulfilling his defensive responsibilities.

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In fact, he could be considered one of City’s most valuable defensive assets. City are a team that are not expected to do much defending, so it’s impressive for any player to put up positive numbers. Zinchenko was dribbled past under 1 time per 90 last season (0.76), boasted a positive pressure percentage of 32.9%, and contributed heavily when pressing from the front in City’s attacking third. Despite being a relatively shorter lad, the Ukrainian also enjoyed a 54.5% aerial win rate last season, proving himself more than capable of timing his leaps against taller players. All ends up, Zinchenko is a magnificent player.

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But why Arsenal? Well, it’s true that the Gunners are not necessarily in need of an upgrade at left-back. Kieran Tierney, when fit, is one of their most formidable outfielders. But the Scotsman missed sixteen Premier League games last season, which would have been a worry heading into 2022-23. More importantly, Arteta is a massive fan of versatile footballers, who can become a jack of all trades for his team. Saka, Smith-Rowe and Ødegaard have already proven themselves to be capable of swapping positions, and in Zinchenko, Arteta’s signed the best at the art of fulfilling different roles. This will not only be useful in Arteta’s attempts to strengthen his midfield, but in the quest to improve the Gunners’ flexibility, where he often liked to switch between a 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 in his first couple of seasons.

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This will give Arteta more options moving forward, where Tierney could play as a left-sided-centre-half and Zinchenko pushes further up the field. If the Spanish manager then wants to deploy a midfield three, the City man is perfect for any triangulation you could concoct, again due to his expert positional sense wherever he plays. The Ukrainian put on a show for his national team in their big 3-1 win over Scotland last month, operating as a tempo-setting ‘number 8’ and pulling the strings from deep. He’s not overly experienced playing in a double pivot, but again, Arteta is signing a player more than capable of learning different roles and positions on short notice.

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All ends up, it appears as though Arsenal have signed not only a gem of a footballer, but someone who could potentially be transformative. Now then, let’s back that up with some stats, as we compare the Ukrainian to the best in Arsenal’s books.

STATISTICAL COMPARISON

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When players sign for new clubs, normally we have an easy insight into the position they will appropriate. In this case, your guess is as good as mine! So with that, we thought it would be most appropriate to cross-examine the Ukrainian up against both left-backs and central midfielders, highlighting his exceptional set of skills at both ends of the pitch.

It’s worth noting again that Zinchenko is truly unique to anything Arsenal already have at their disposal. But as far as a comparison goes, that is perhaps even more valuable, showcasing the vast set of traits he could bring to the Gunners where others lack.

PRECISION IN POSSESSION

PLAYERPass %Long P %Prog P.Prog C.Rec. %Mis.Dis.
Oleksandr Zinchenko89.373.08.469.6696.80.690.69
Kieran Tierney77.746.23.575.2192.80.750.38
Nuno Tavares81.856.32.146.8793.21.371.37
Granit Xhaka87.077.95.604.2994.70.660.93
Thomas Partey85.975.25.163.6295.40.670.89
Martin Ødegaard84.868.65.116.5087.51.391.59

When compared to Arsenal’s central midfielders, Oleksandr Zinchenko bests the rest on all but one occasion. But when compared against fullbacks, there’s an even greater discrepancy, showcasing just how much of a useful upgrade the Ukrainian could be. Zinchenko’s passing percentage sits atop the throne of impressiveness, even despite accumulating the most progressive distance of his passes per 90, and the second most passes under pressure (7.84). His long passing percentage vastly outperforms Tierney and Tavares, and the same could be said of his obscene progressive behaviours when in possession.

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You could make the argument that playing for Manchester City would skew anyone’s stats, but that argument becomes mute when looking at his own individual quality in a team of superstars. He miscontrolled just 0.69 passes per 90, and was dispossessed the exact same – just 0.69 times per 90. Given that he could be one of Arsenal’s top creators next season, this again boasts well for his ability to transform the Gunners’ attack. Their other top creative influence in Martin Ødegaard found himself dispossessed 1.59 times per 90 by comparison, more than double that of Zinchenko.

ATTACKING INSTINCTS

PLAYERG+AKPSCAGCAShot T %Pass 1/3PPA
Oleksandr Zinchenko0.341.383.610.8633.37.841.98
Kieran Tierney0.191.031.790.1433.33.431.17
Nuno Tavares0.150.691.990.238.701.980.76
Granit Xhaka0.121.353.060.1218.56.181.74
Thomas Partey0.130.802.260.1320.54.930.58
Martin Ødegaard0.362.464.330.3939.63.242.10

As one of Arsenal’s chief attackers, it’s no surprise to see Martin Ødegaard topping many of our attacking categories. But Zinchenko more than holds his own, coming first or second every single time. His assist numbers are relatively outrageous, especially considering his role as an inverted fullback, used more commonly to pull strings from deep and make striking passes into the final third. His ability to cut the opposition open without even using a knife is quite extraordinary, and allows him to be an integral creator wherever he’s deployed. Just check out his goal-creating-action numbers – 0.86 per 90 in the Premier League during the 2021-22 campaign. That’s more than six times as many as Tierney, Partey and Xhaka. It doesn’t matter if he’s deployed as a fullback, wing-back or midfielder, Oleksandr Zinchenko will transform Arsenal’s attack.

DEFENSIVE APTITUDE

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We’ve already claimed Zinchenko to be one of the Citizens’ most accomplished defenders, so we’ve got much on the line. But once again the Ukrainian international impresses.

PLAYERRecov.Tkl + Int.Press %Aerial %Tkl %+/-
Oleksandr Zinchenko9.833.2833.051.530.8+3.44
Kieran Tierney8.032.4430.244.471.4+0.56
Nuno Tavares7.713.3630.349.150+0.46
Granit Xhaka9.582.7028.055.436.1+0.43
Thomas Partey10.33.4135.446.043.9+0.67
Martin Ødegaard7.442.1026.840.530.8+0.45

The only below average statistic happens to be his tackle percentage, which sits at a relatively low 30.8%, particularly for a fullback who must engage in most of his challenges toward the touch-line, where there’s little room for an attacker to go. Kieran Tierney has no issue making tackles out wide, backed up by his superb 71.4% win rate. Perhaps there is something about Arsenal and the way they funnel play wide, allowing the fullbacks to time their challenges to perfection. But this would nevertheless be the only major worry of his defensive game, where he can illustrate that intelligent exuberance to extreme heights and land off as a steady performer in any position. Even then, Zinchenko’s win rate last season hit 50%, and a career high of 60% in his first season with Guardiola’s men. So while it may be a concern, tackle percentage is a statistic that may have more variability from one season to another, and Zinchenko’s numbers over the course of the season prove him to be more than capable.

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It’s no surprise to see Thomas Partey topping many categories in this particular table, given his defensive role for the Gunners. But Zinchenko backs up Partey’s numbers fairly well, despite being a significantly more progressive and creative outfielder. His +/- is perhaps the most impressive at all, with the Citizens accumulating 3.44 more goals with him on the field than without him. The Twitter feeds tend to hate this kind of stat, but it’s hard to ignore Zinchenko’s influence when given the chance to shine for City, and that +/- makes a whole lot of sense given his outrageous 0.86 goal-contributing-actions per 90. Overall, Arsenal have found a gem not only in an attacking sense, but they’ve added a capable defender into their ranks.

CONCLUSION

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Oleksandr Zinchenko is an absolute wizard, and will be a transformative signing for the Gunners, wherever he’s deployed. The Ukrainian international excels beyond just being a versatile footballer who can fulfill different roles, even toward the edge of being one of the best progressors in the world of football. He’s exceptional with the ball at his feet, but astutely clever in picking up pockets of space off-the-ball, and defensively destructive when called upon at the other end. City’s +/- reached an obscene height of +3.44 with the 25-year-old on the field last season, demonstrating the immense quality he will bring to Mikel Arteta’s team in 2022-23. Wherever he plays, Zinchenko is bound to be a hit.


So there it is! Why Oleksandr Zinchenko is perfect for Arsenal. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, Player Analyses, Transfer Market pieces, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

More from this series…

-> Why Gabriel Jesus is perfect for Arsenal
-> Why Marc Cucurella is perfect for Manchester City
-> Why Erling Haaland is perfect for Manchester City

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