Talking Tactics

Why Kulusevski is the player Arsenal must fear most

By Adrian Clarke 21 Sep 2023
Dejan Kulusevski-Talking-Tactics

Adrian Clarke says Swede's pace and movement make him Spurs' biggest threat in Sunday's north London derby

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 6.

Player analysis: Dejan Kulusevski (Tottenham Hotspur)

Kulusevski has the athleticism and skillset to thrive in Ange Postecoglou’s tactical revolution at Tottenham Hotspur, as they prepare for Sunday's north London derby at Arsenal.

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Head coach Postecoglou demands bright minds, sharp movement, high fitness levels and positive attacking intent from his players.

Judging by his displays so far this season, Kulusevski is perfectly suited to those requirements.

He scored a dramatic winning goal in stoppage time against Sheffield United last weekend, adding to his  strike in a 2-0 win at AFC Bournemouth.

But it is the Swede's general performance levels which have stood out most.

Kulusevski is likely to be a real handful for Arsenal’s roaming left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko, due to his ability of combining with team-mates and the threat he possesses on the right.

Dynamic runner

Postecoglou must be mightily impressed by the 23-year-old’s work ethic.

Diligent in his work off the ball, but especially dynamic when Spurs build their attacks, Kulusevski has covered more ground than any other Premier League player so far in 2023/24.

Most distance covered 2023/24
Player Kilometres covered
Dejan Kulusevski 59.82
Bruno Fernandes 59.44
Philip Billing 57.94
Declan Rice 57.74

He is a winger who loves to look for one-twos around the box and is consistently prepared to make bursts into the area, hoping to be picked out with a pass.

Arsenal’s Gabriel will need to be aware of those runs, especially if Zinchenko is caught ahead of the ball.

Only Nicolas Jackson and Pedro Neto have made more runs than Kulusevski across the opening five matches in the Premier League this season.

Most runs made 2023/24
Player Total runs
Nicolas Jackson 192
Pedro Neto 168
Dejan Kulusevski 157
Ollie Watkins 154

He may not always receive the ball from those off-the-ball pieces of movement, but by making those sprints he occupies defenders and creates space for others.

Kulusevski is also ranked among the league's top 10 players for sprints and runs into the box.

More ball time

Kulusevski, along with every Spurs attacker, is spending far more time with the ball at his feet compared to when he played under previous head coach Antonio Conte.

Their transition into becoming a more possession-based side has helped him receive passes in advanced areas more regularly.

This has understandably increased his shot output to 2.84 per 90 minutes and Kulusevski's ability to create opportunities.

Chelsea’s Raheem Sterling is the only player to have had more touches inside the opposition penalty area.

As shown below, his attacking numbers have jumped significantly compared to 2022/23.

Kulusevski's attacking stats last two seasons 
Statistic* 2022/23 2023/24
Succ. passes/opp. half 15.09 24.53
Chances created/open play 1.86 2.43
Touches/opp. box 5.16 9.53
Shots 1.86 2.84

*Per 90 min

Postecoglou believes in a tactical style of play that is built to create overloads.

From those 2v1s or 3v2s, the Australian loves to see overlaps, underlaps and sprints into spaces behind the opposition defence.

As outlined already, Kulusevski is a strong runner, both with and without the ball.

He created six chances from ball carries this season so far, a figure that has only been usurped by Brighton & Hove Albion’s Kaoru Mitoma.

Chances created from ball carries 2023/24
Player Total
Kaoru Mitoma 7
Dejan Kulusevski 6
Pervis Estupinan 6
Phil Foden 6

Overall, Kulusevski has made 12 key passes in open play, ranking him joint second in the Premier League behind Mitoma's 14.

If Kulusevski is not closely marked, he could be the player to end Arsenal's unbeaten start to the season.

Also in this series

Part 1: Can Brentford strike the right balance against Everton?
Part 2: How Koleosho's pace and trickery can trouble Man Utd
Part 4: Can Chelsea kickstart revival by matching Villa's finishing?

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