Talking Tactics: Zinchenko versatility key to Art project

Will Evans
LiveScore
Oleksandr Zinchenko looks set to start at left-back when Arsenal visit Selhurst Park this evening
Oleksandr Zinchenko looks set to start at left-back when Arsenal visit Selhurst Park this evening

Oleksandr Zinchenko is ready to step up and become a key man at Arsenal.

The Gunners' newest recruit never truly nailed down a starting spot during six years at Manchester City — but will want to be a regular fixture in Mikel Arteta's starting XI this season.

However, the versatile Ukrainian's best position remains up for debate.

Ahead of Arsenal's Premier League opener at Crystal Palace tonight, we take a look at how he will fit in at the Emirates.

Competition at left-back

Though Zinchenko arrived in Manchester as a central midfielder, he operated as a left-back for most of his time at the club.

That was evident last season, when the 25-year-old featured on the left side of defence in all but one appearance — the home Champions League group stage clash with Paris Saint-Germain.

But he will have a tough time ousting first-team regular Kieran Tierney from that role when Arsenal's No3 is fully fit.

The former Celtic defender has been plagued with injuries throughout his time in North London though — and is currently absent with a knee injury.

That will hand Zinchenko a chance to stake a claim for the Gunners' left-back berth, starting this evening at Selhurst Park.

New Arsenal signing Oleksandr Zinchenko chipped in with six assists in all competitions last term
New Arsenal signing Oleksandr Zinchenko chipped in with six assists in all competitions last term

Mixing it up

Arteta sees Zinchenko primarily as a left-sided option — and was full of praise for the 52-cap international's unique skill set in that position.

Speaking after the summer signing's arrival, he said: "I'm very happy. It's the position we wanted to strengthen.

"His main position is left-back but within that position and within the formation that we have he can alter and occupy different spaces on the pitch and this is the main quality he has."

Zinchenko will operate as a different kind of full-back to Tierney.

While the Scottish star frequently looks to bomb down the touchline before delivering crosses into the box, Zinchenko will often drift into central areas to help overload opposition defences when his team are in possession.

Oleksandr Zinchenko is not afraid to move into the half-space to get involved in play
Oleksandr Zinchenko is not afraid to move into the half-space to get involved in play

Midfield impact

Zinchenko was a midfielder during his formative years at FC Ufa — and has continued to operate in that position at international level.

He featured in the centre of the park at some stage in all bar one of their fixtures since the start of 2021, including as a left-sided No8 in June's World Cup qualifying play-off against Scotland.

Arsenal look likely to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation this season and are still a little short of options for their double-pivot, as they prepare for a gruelling Europa League campaign.

That could open the door for Zinchenko to remain in the starting line-up, even when Tierney is available for selection.

Oleksandr Zinchenko provided an outlet on the left last season before frequently moving into the middle when in possession
Oleksandr Zinchenko provided an outlet on the left last season before frequently moving into the middle when in possession

Squeezing the budget

The Gunners are reportedly keen to add another wide forward to their squad this summer after missing out new Barcelona recruit Raphinha.

But without Champions League football in 2022-23, the transfer kitty will have to be carefully managed.

Zinchenko's versatility is a significant help in that regard as it allows technical director Edu to focus his attention on one or two high-profile signings — knowing that their new £30million man can operate in a host of positions if required.

Thinking outside of the box

Arteta is not averse to occasionally utilising a three-man defence — and Zinchenko could have a role to play in such a set-up.

The Spanish tactician used a back three against Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool in the Carabao Cup last season, so clearly views it as a useful tool when facing some of the country's best sides.

Zinchenko played as a wing-back in Ukraine's 2-1 extra-time triumph over Sweden at Euro 2020, in which he also managed to get on the scoresheet.

He could take on a similar role for Arsenal this term when the Gunners are looking to nullify superior opposition.

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