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Talking Tactics

Zinchenko's roaming role can stretch Man Utd

Adrian Clarke 19 Jan 2023

Adrian Clarke explains how creativity and versatility of Arsenal left-back will be key on Sunday

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 21.

Oleksandr Zinchenko (ARS)

Arsenal’s signing from Manchester City has become the most effective multi-functional full-back in the Premier League.

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Flitting between left-back and central midfield, Zinchenko has been a revelation in his unusual hybrid role for this season.

He brings great composure in possession and out wide. When he drifts infield, the Ukrainian creates overloads in central positions that confuse the opposition.

Zinchenko is excellent at seeing a forward pass, and executing it with precision. His quality helps Arsenal play through the lines to consistently create promising attacks.

Licence to roam

Mikel Arteta, who worked with Zinchenko at Man City, hands his full-back licence to go wherever he sees fit when Arsenal have control of the ball.

Zinchenko can occasionally pop up to the right of centre when linking play, but most of his distribution comes from a more orthodox left-central midfield berth.

It is risky to some degree for him to leave his station at left-back, but Gabriel, Granit Xhaka or Gabriel Martinelli fill those holes when he goes for a wander.

Fast transitions can sometimes leave Arsenal exposed, and this is something Manchester United may target at Emirates Stadium this Sunday. But the class that Zinchenko provides on the ball is a positive that outweighs that concern.

Growing influence

In Arsenal’s last home match against Newcastle United, Zinchenko produced a sublime distribution masterclass.

He was the most effective Arsenal player when it came to breaching a well-disciplined Newcastle shape, feeding a string of forward passes between midfielders for Xhaka.

How Zinchenko found Xhaka (v NEW)
Zinchenko passing v Newcastle 1
Zinchenko passing v Newcastle 2
Zinchenko passing v Newcastle 3
Zinchenko passing v Newcastle 4

Zinchenko's hybrid role allows Xhaka to push into attacking-midfield positions, which asks questions of his direct markers.

In the absence of defensive midfielder Casemiro, who is suspended, Man Utd's central midfielders must get their positional spacing right.

Whenever Zinchenko gains possession on the inside, he can cut through their unit with a single incisive pass.

Zinchenko influence per 90 2022/23
Succ. passes into final third Successful passes in opp. half
Zinchenko 18.9 Zinchenko 34.3
Odegaard 16.8 Partey 33.9
Xhaka 16.7 White 28.7

*minimum 10 starts

Over this season Zinchenko has averaged 4.7 progressive passes per 90 minutes, but in recent weeks that figure has been far higher.

Pass master

He makes more successful passes in to the opposition half or final third than any team-mate, and it will be fascinating to see if Man Utd head coach Erik ten Hag has devised a plan to curb his influence.

Without Casemiro it would be a surprise if Ten Hag did not deploy a midfield trio of Fred, Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen.

Those three would ordinarily be directly responsible for Thomas Partey, Xhaka and Odegaard, but Zinchenko's forays infield will pose difficult questions.

If United do not find a way to nullify his distribution, Arsenal are likely to enjoy control of this match.

Zinchenko has become a prominent and highly influential figure in this table-topping team.

Also in this series

Part 1: Mudryk offers quick answer to Chelsea's goal-shy attack
Part 3: How Bentancur balances Spurs' defence and attack

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