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Zinchenko Arsenal revival factor: Ex City ace helping bring the best out of Xhaka and Martinelli

Zinchenko Arsenal revival factor: Ex City ace helping bring the best out of Xhaka and Martinelli

Oleksandr Zinchenko’s £32 million transfer from Manchester City to Arsenal in the summer has aided Mikel Arteta in transforming Arsenal into Premier League title favorites.

Oleksandr Zinchenko has the ball in his possession just outside the Arsenal penalty area. Two Tottenham attackers are closing in on him, and several others are in position to pounce.

At this point, the majority of players would seek to quickly sell it. A safe pass in reverse. Perhaps even a frantic ball over the top. But Zinchenko is unlike the majority of players.


Instead, he feints one way and then the other, dribbling around Dejan Kulusevski like a matador playing with a bull, before accelerating into the small pocket of space behind him and threading a reverse pass through to Granit Xhaka with his weaker foot.

In a matter of seconds, he has eliminated six Spurs players from the game, bypassing their press and sending Arsenal on the offensive. Xhaka, slightly adjusting his run to receive it, appears as surprised as anyone that he has accomplished it.

Even more impressive was the fact that it occurred less than two minutes into the second half of Sunday’s game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, when Arsenal’s wounded opponents were at their most agitated, Antonio Conte’s team talk still echoing in their ears.

However, this is exactly what Zinchenko does.

His fearlessness and technical acumen contributed to Manchester City’s four Premier League titles. Now it is transforming Arsenal. In addition, the left-back now plays a pivotal rather than a supporting role.

This applies to both his position on the field and his status within the team.

Zinchenko’s role differs greatly from that of a conventional fullback. Instead of charging forward on the overlap, he moves inward, helping to suffocate and pick apart opponents.

Injuries have limited him to just 10 Premier League starts this season, but his importance to Arsenal’s buildup has already been established. He averages the most touches per 90 minutes of play. He ranks first for passes in both the opponent’s half and the final third.

In fact, only five Premier League players have completed more passes in the final third than Zinchenko this season, and it is telling that they are all Manchester City players: Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo, Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, and Riyad Mahrez.

At Arsenal, he stands out due to the qualities that helped him fit in with City. Their left-back also serves as a playmaker.

Sunday’s matchup with Spurs exemplified this fact more than ever before.

Zinchenko was exceptional, especially in the first half, as the 26-year-old allowed Mikel Arteta’s team to advance the ball up the field and keep it there. Occasionally, he even appeared on the right side of midfield. Spurs did not know how to handle him.

Last season, Walker named him one of City’s top three technically proficient players, which is high praise given the level of competition, and his position also requires tactical intelligence. Pep Guardiola stated, “He is so, so intelligent” Arteta, Guardiola’s former assistant, agrees.

His £32 million transfer from City has allowed Arsenal’s manager to rebalance his squad, a process that, according to Wenger, has been instrumental in the club’s emergence as title contenders.

During his recent appearance on Monday Night Football, Arteta said to Jamie Carragher, “It was necessary.”

If the team desired to advance to a higher level, be dominant, and have more resources in the final third, a change was necessary.

The modification involved advancing Xhaka forward. The 30-year-old was used for the first time as Arsenal’s left-sided No. 8 in the second half of last season, but Arteta felt he needed assistance to “unlock something in his brain.”

Zinchenko, an inverted fullback able to occupy the space behind Xhaka and provide the necessary platform for him to advance, arrived to provide assistance. Xhaka has flourished, scoring three goals and providing four assists to transform his offensive threat.

Xhaka isn’t the only player who has benefited from this.

Gabriel Martinelli is now able to utilize his strengths more effectively.

“If Martinelli wishes to score more goals, he must play more in the final line and on the flanks, as that is his strength,” Arteta explained on Monday Night Football.

I believe that him playing there and getting the ball to him in a variety of situations will benefit us significantly more than having a fullback play there the entire season.

Arteta has been proven right.

Martinelli is at his most dangerous when he receives the ball near the sideline and cuts inside, and he is able to do this much more frequently with a fullback stationed behind him, such as Zinchenko, as opposed to outside of him, such as Kieran Tierney.

Martinelli now occupies this position, and his output has skyrocketed.

The Brazilian is receiving more touches, dribbling more, creating more opportunities, and taking more shots. With seven goals, he has already scored more than he did in the entire previous season.

Previously overly dependent on their right side, where Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard developed a near-telepathic understanding and the full-role back’s was already more conservative, Arsenal are now equally dangerous on their left side.

In fact, in games that Zinchenko has started, both flanks have received an equal number of attacks.

The change in Arsenal’s structure is reflected in their average positions this season compared to last.

The left-back, now Zinchenko instead of Tierney, is positioned deeper and closer to the center of the field, while Xhaka and Martinelli occupy positions further forward, with the latter also occupying a wider position.

Arteta stated, “This triangle looks much better in its current configuration.”

Arteta added, “I believe that was the transformation the team had to undergo,” but Zinchenko is the one who makes it work. Who are the two players he has passed the ball to the most this season? Martinelli and Xhaka.

Zinchenko has provided both the service and defensive cover they required, and even more.

Like his former City teammate Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko has brought a winning attitude to the Emirates Stadium. Seventy-eight percent of the club games he has started over the past six seasons have resulted in victories, demonstrating that he knows exactly what it takes to succeed.

In August, Arteta described him as a “ruthless winner,” which has proven accurate.

The Ukrainian told reporters in November, when Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table was only two points, that he wished to “destroy” the “stereotype” that Arsenal only aspires to finish in the top four. He stated, “We must look further afield.”

They are currently doing this, and Zinchenko is at the center of it.

Despite having been substituted, he was the one to pull Aaron Ramsdale out of the post-match melee at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, exemplifying his passion and combative nature, which are also evident in his defensive play.

In fact, despite the perception that he is vulnerable in one-on-one situations, his duel success rate of 64% this season is second only to William Saliba among Arsenal’s outfield players. Despite his diminutive stature, he is currently winning 73% of aerials.

He has improved Arsenal defensively and offensively, as evidenced by their results. They have kept six clean sheets in the 10 Premier League games he has started, but only three in the eight he has not.

This is just another example of how Arsenal are reaping the benefits of the Zinchenko effect, both with and without the ball, on the field and off, and a player who is wired differently than the rest.

Zinchenko Arsenal revival factor: Ex City ace helping bring the best out of Xhaka and Martinelli

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