Why the Ukrainian Zinchenko fits Arteta’s style of play
Arsenal is negotiating a deal for Alexander Zinchenko from Manchester City. The 25-year-old has won four Premier League titles, but played just 15 games in the top division last season.
An unremarkable hero
It was a day when Manchester City’s season almost fell apart, but an unexpected hero emerged. “Manchester City lost 0-1 to Aston Villa at halftime of last season’s last match. Liverpool beat Wolverhampton at Anfield, so Pep Guardiola needed inspiration, otherwise the title would fall into the hands of Jurgen Klopp.
At halftime, Guardiola turned to his bench. Raheem Sterling was there, as well as Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish. But Oleksandr Zinchenko was chosen to replace central defender Fernandinho during City’s defense reshuffle.
The team’s lineup and formation had to change, and Zinchenko was the man who could help. The Ukraine national team player moved to the left-back position and dictated the game, made 13 assists in the second half and helped Rodri tie the score (2-2). City, which suddenly became more agile, ended up winning the game and with it the title.
Sterling and Gundogan soon joined Zinchenko off the bench and made a more noticeable impact in the final third, turning the latter into an unnoticed hero. As it looks like this match could be his last in a City jersey, it could be a fitting end for the Ukrainian, who has rarely found himself in the spotlight at Etihad Stadium.
Arsenal intend to sign the Ukrainian player – and given how smoothly the pursuit of Gabriel Jesus went, Zinchenko could very well be the next player to go to London. Versatile, technically gifted and reliable are the words associated with the 25-year-old Manchester City player, and here’s why.
What place will Zinchenko take at Arsenal
Mikel Arteta has his eye on defenders and center field players this summer transfer window. “The Canaries wanted Lissandro Martinez from Ajax, who has experience playing in both positions and as a central defender, but he has now agreed to sign with Manchester United. Leicester’s Yuri Thielemans was also considered, but that interest has cooled in recent weeks.
There is a reason why the Arsenal coach needs to strengthen these positions. Left-back Kieran Tierney has suffered injuries in the last two seasons at crucial moments, and although Nuno Tavares was signed as cover last summer, the young Portuguese fullback failed to live up to expectations and ended up losing competition to even Cedric Soares and Granit Jaque by season’s end.
In midfield, Djaka is a mainstay of Arteta’s team, but there is little competition for his particular role. Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny and Lokonga’s Albert Sambi compete for the same position at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield, leaving Jaka alone in the position of eight. A midfield consisting of Djaka, Martin Edegor and newcomer Fabio Vieira, worth £35 million, would pose some risk, given that the Norwegian and the Portuguese tend to be attacking and weak defensively.
Zinchenko plays as a left-back for Manchester City, but he plays exclusively in the center of midfield for the Ukraine national team. Had he played in midfield at Arsenal, Zinchenko would have competed with Djaka – and a closer look at their respective heat maps last season shows that the two play in the same area of the pitch, even though the Ukrainian played on the left flank of defense for City and Djaka in midfield at Arsenal.
Zinchenko’s passing statistics are better than Dzaka’s, but that’s to be expected given that Guardiola’s City hold and use the ball better than Arsenal. Still, the Ukrainian has earned the respect of his teammates and is considered one of the most technically gifted players in the squad.
Responding to a question in a recent YouTube interview about the City team, defender Kyle Walker included Zinchenko in his team’s top three most technical players. However, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Joao Cancelo were not on the list.
On top of that, Zinchenko and City defended much less than Arsenal last summer, but the Ukrainian player’s defensive performance is still superior to Djaka. Zinchenko has more rebounds, interceptions and won tackles in the air than the Swiss midfielder, with the two players operating in roughly the same area of the pitch.
Zinchenko has excellent defensive stats, although the Citizens attack more than defend. If the Ukrainian is needed as a left-back, there will be no problem fitting him into Arsenal’s formation.
Tierney is active up front, allowing a left winger in Emile Smith Rowe or Gabriel Martinelli to shift into the center. While this is a bit different from Zinchenko’s role at City, there is evidence that the Ukrainian can adjust quickly.
In a clip from Manchester City’s “All or Nothing” documentary about the 2017/18 season, Arteta tries to turn Zinchenko into the type of edge defender that Tierney currently represents. And the Ukrainian’s stats from last season show why he adapts quickly at Arteta’s Arsenal – regardless of which position he plays.
Zinchenko also fits Arteta’s team in terms of the player profile the coach likes. At 25, he’s only a year older than Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Gabriel and two years older than Edegor and Takehiro Tomiyasu, all of whom were signed in the last two summer windows.
And Zinchenko’s profile is very similar to that of Edegor in that he became the leader of his national team at a very young age. And his four Premier League titles, as well as reaching the Champions League final, make him an accomplished figure even at 25.
Praise from Guardiola
Zinchenko’s mentality was praised by City head coach Guardiola last season
Alex is a reliable player, so he will never forget what he has done in the last three or four years, playing in a position that is not his natural. When you’re not playing in your natural position, you’re usually going to play one or two games like that, but playing seasons not in your natural position, you have to be very strong mentally. Alex is so reliable because he’s always focused and always concentrating. That’s incredibly appreciated in the locker room. Defense is about attitude, not talent. Zinchenko is always around, he’s not the fastest, but his concentration is top notch.
Reliable is a word that is not common when describing Arsenal players, especially those with whom Zinchenko will compete for a spot in the starting lineup. Perhaps this inconspicuous hero at City will find himself in the spotlight at the Emirates in due course.