Best and worst of Zinchenko
The pros of Oleksandr Zinchenko at left back are well known by this point. When drifting into midfield, the Ukrainian offers one of the most secure passing options in world football and from these positions he can be the chisel required to dismantle the brick wall defences that Arsenal face regularly in the Premier League at the moment. You’ve essentially got a number ten at left back.
But there are problems with this too. Chief among them being that you’ve essentially got a number ten at left back.
For each match-winning assist, like his one for Martin Odegaard, there is an error like the one leading to Matheus Cunha’s nerve-jangling goal, lurking around the corner. The way you view Zinchenko probably comes down to whether you’re a glass half-full, or glass half-empty kind of person. Mikel Arteta certainly falls into the former category.
“You have to love him, how he is,” the Spaniard said. “Every player has strengths and weaknesses. Alex has many more strengths. This happened and it can happen to any player. We have to learn from it because there are certain areas where it’s a big no to play, especially after certain things in the previous phase. That’s it. We will get better.”
On Saturday we saw the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde element to Zinchenko. There are few players who would have combined so superbly with Gabriel Jesus to make to give Arsenal a two goal lead. But then again there aren’t many left backs who would have tried to play out under a swarm of orange Wolves shirts at 2-0 with just four minutes remaining.
Having coached Zinchenko at City and helped covert him into the player he is today, Arteta can hardly say he didn’t know what he was getting into. Inherent in the reward the 26-year-old offers is a risk that more conservative managers may shy away from.
Arsenal see out the win
Arteta’s optimism was doubtless coloured by the final result in the game. Arsenal really should have been out of sight by the time Zinchenko’s error came along.
Having come to the Emirates with a reputation as big-six party poopers, Wolves seemed keen to do their bit to keep the afterparty for Wednesday night’s 6-0 win over Lens rolling on throughout the weekend. Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard notched inside the first 15 minutes, and it seemed that we could be in for another tennis score at the Emirates. Gabriel Martinelli had hit the post, while Leandro Trossard had spurned a one-vs-one opportunity that should easily have given Arsenal a score more reflective of their dominance.
As it was though, Zinchenko’s lapse in focus allowed meant that Arsenal had to hang on. It wasn’t as if Wolves bombarded the Arsenal goal with a late assault, but the cheer that greeted David Raya claiming a speculative 97th minute cross said everything about how relieved everyone inside the Emirates was to hold on.
No one more so than Mikel Arteta. As Peter Bankes’ full time whistle blew, he turned, arms outstretched, to offer his coaching staff the kind of tense-up macho chest-bumps rarely seen outside of NFL matches. The Spaniard loves these kind of victories. Perhaps one of his most jubilant full time whistle celebrations last season came up at Elland Road where Arsenal somehow clung on for a win over a Leeds side who had battered their goal for the entire second half.
This was nothing on that scale, but it’s another dent in the narrative that still persists in some parts of the footballing discourse that Arsenal have a soft underbelly. For all their beautiful football in the first 86 minutes, the Gunners showed in the last ten men, they can as get down and dirty as the best of them if it means holding on to the three points.
Ask anyone what makes Takehiro Tomiyasu such a valuable asset to this Arsenal squad and the first thing they will say is his defending. The Japan international is an outstanding one-vs-one defender, capable of shutting down entire flanks of an opposition attack more or less on his own.
Second to that you would probably hear his versatility mentioned. There aren’t many players who can slot in to any of the back four positions and look at home – particularly in a tactical set up as specific as Mikel Arteta’s.
The last thing likely to be mentioned would be what he offers in attack. In fact, some people might even count it as one of Tomiyasu’s weaknesses. But four months into the season, the 25-year-old has more assists than Leandro Trossard, Martin Odegaard or Kai Havertz.
Admittedly those have all come in the last two matches, but Tomiyasu’s increased offensive contribution is no coincidence. Now that he has finally been able to get a consistent run of training sessions going at London Colney, Arteta and his coaching staff have been working hard to improve the Japan international’s attacking prowess. Specific instructions have been passed on about the kind of positions he should be taking up and the timings of his runs in a similar vein to how they were given to Ben White, when he made his transition from centre back to right back last season.
Tomiyasu has been incredibly receptive to these extra tips and it is baring fruit on the pitch. The fear now will be that he may have suffered another injury set back. Arsenal have been careful to manage his minutes given his patchy injury history, but towards the end of this match there did appear to be a flare up of the calf injuries that dogged his first season in England.
Arteta sought to fan the flames of fear though saying: “He felt something. I don’t know if it was fatigue. We decided to change straight away and we didn’t want to take any risks. Let’s assess him and see how he is.”
The hope will legitimately be that it is nothing serious as the Japan international has arguably earned himself undroppable status right now. Without him the full back positions at Arsenal start to look incredibly thin, particularly with such a hectic December fixture list on the horizon.