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How Oleksandr Zinchenko will allow Mikel Arteta greater flexibility

The Ukrainian’s arrival fills several missing pieces for Arsenal

Manchester City Training Session Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Oleksandr Zinchenko is set to become Arsenal’s second signing of the summer from Manchester City. That is notable because City are often seen as a guide for how Mikel Arteta will want Arsenal to play, a comparison perhaps borne out of slight laziness. The principles, though, are similar, and while there are some differences—for example, I think Arteta is both more pragmatic and has less desire to use a false nine than Guardiola—Guardiola’s use of Zinchenko, and full backs in general can be illustrative.

There can be no doubt that Arteta is buying Zinchenko to play at left back. Arteta clearly didn’t trust Nuno Tavares enough at the business end of the season, and Kieran Tierney’s on-going injury history means that Zinchenko will certainly play left back—indeed, as of now, he is surely the odds-on favourite to start at left back when Arsenal open the season on August 5. Beyond that, though, Zinchenko, who has played in central midfield for club and predominantly country, could play as Arsenal’s left 8.

However, it is perhaps useful to think of Zinchenko as occupying the same zone and role rather than whether he is at left back or central midfield. That will be often in a deeper left-central role, where he can use his passing range to play into midfield or wide. Indeed, from left back at City, he would often receive possession in similar areas to when Granit Xhaka was Arsenal’s left 8 last season.

Of course, playing at left back won’t exclusively mean playing in a deeper, left of center zone of the pitch—Zinchenko will get forward on the outside of his winger, and can use his ability to cross to swing the ball to the backpost, where Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka like to gamble. Yet that is also something he could do from central midfield, on an overlap. Indeed, it is easy to imagine Zinchenko going on an overlap of Emile Smith Rowe, receiving possession and swinging the ball in; it is also easy to imagine him playing on an underlap of Gabriel Martinelli and doing the same thing from the edge of the penalty box.

And that, ultimately, is the point. Zinchenko gives Mikel Arteta options. He can play at left back with Martinelli ahead, especially as the Brazilian is far more comfortable in wide positions than Emile Smith Rowe. This could see Granit Xhaka as the left 8 against tougher opponents, or could see Smith Rowe ahead, with Zinchenko tucked in.

Alternatively, Zinchenko could be the number 8, with Tierney overlapping at full back and Smith Rowe on the left. This would give Arsenal a midfield heavy approach—one that could be useful at looking to break teams down, but also enabling Smith Rowe to sit in pockets and combine before making third man runs.

The ultimate outlook is Arsenal looking closer to Arteta’s vision of Arsenal—and a return to one of the features of his early games, where Arteta filled the 5 channels in attack and defence. But whereas last season favoured Arsenal’s right hand side, in getting Zinchenko, Arteta can be begin to build his left.