Analysis of Oleks Zinchenko – Arsenal’s Free-thinking Footballing Artist

Zinchenko – Portrait Of A Footballing Artist – Re-thinking the role of the footballer by Jonathon Foster

I love a free spirit. I love a person who dares to break from tradition and question the norm. A inquisitive soul who’ll unshackle themselves from the tyranny of convention and ask “How else might this be?” There’s true genius in even posing the question let alone rethinking, rearranging and rebuilding a whole new form. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean in some thoughtless so-called entrepreneurial disruptive smash-it-up way, done purely in the raving pursuit of profit way. No, I mean the people who truly embrace the idea that there’s an almost unimaginable variety of ways to express ourselves as human beings, the people who genuinely understand doctrine as chains and dare to forge a new path and open new territory.

Of course, on some level, these people are something of a myth. Everyone stands on the shoulders of those who came before. Joyce didn’t invent the novel but his profound experimentation twisted it into a new form. Banksy didn’t invent street art but his political and social commentary rewired its impact and his refusal to bask in the consequent fame reframed celebrity. And Oleksandr Zinchenko didn’t invent football, he just unchained himself from the tyranny of expectation and rethought the role of the footballer’s role.

Watching Oleksandr Zinchenko playing football is like watching the dawning of a new era. Just as we moved from the Bronze to the Iron Age, Zinchenko kicked Football from the Rigid to the Fluid Age. Where footballers were once predictably playing on well trodden paths in their rehearsed roles, Zinchenko roams around with revolutionary freedom and liberating deviance. Sure, a Zidane or a Ronaldinho could break the established order by playing with astonishing individual flair, but in typical fashion, Zinchenko took one look at the Book Of Football Positions, sat down and took out his pen. You’d better keep your eyes on him or you’ll be left in the Old Era and miss a real-life maverick rewriting football history.

By innovating the role of the role, Zinchenko managed to smuggle a whole new playing style through the Nothing To Declare Channel because nobody even thought to check his bags stuffed with a never-before-seen aqueous genius. Zinchenko just doesn’t care for lines of demarcation. He threw his map out the window, he’s oblivious to borders, he defies the anchors of positional logic and instead freestyles through games with incomprehensibly smart fluidity. It’s almost incredible he bothers to stay on the pitch at all!

The only thing you can be sure of with Oleksandr Zinchenko is that eventually he’ll be pulling a bunch of skinny-kid bodybuilder poses and screaming full spittle at the crowd because moments earlier he’s accelerated out of nowhere, performed some close-up sleight of foot magic and Hey-Presto, Arsenal are a goal up and heading for victory.

And even then, in full caveman celebration mode, he’ll crash through conventions and madly embrace a bunch of fist-clenching fans behind the security barrier. “Come to me my fellow band of brothers!” Yep, there’s definitely something of the chivalric knight about Sir Oleksandr who plays every match as if it were perpetually St Crispin’s Day. I can see him raging through games with a fearless fury and then, when the battle is won and his team mates cruise out of The Emirates in their blinging SUVs, Zinny will be galloping through the gates on his wild-eyed trusty steed screaming “From this day on shall we happy few, we band of Arsenal brothers be remembered for eternity!”

The guy is a natural born winner and his confidence and determination are contagious. You can see the rest of the squad becoming infected with his belief and boldness and sharing his conviction that if you just envisage hard enough the material world will align to your demands and the Premiership will be yours.

Arteta is a savvy operator, he understands that players are human beings driven not by statistics or money or their media manufactured facades, but by their emotional architecture, by their hearts (for more on that read my post Mikel Arteta – A Line In The Sand) so when Mikel brought Zinchenko to Arsenal he was buying a player that suited his plans not just on the pitch, but off it too. He was buying The Ultimate Ukrainian Self-Belief Potion and now everyone is drinking it by the bucket load.

But for all his apparently chaos agent style, for all his smashing of the established order and for all his Battle of Agincourt urging, Zinny’s not breaking all the rules, he’s not gone completely rogue. He’s playing like this with Arteta’s blessing and under Arteta’s tutelage. Which in itself is fascinating because remember the early days when people claimed Arteta was playing too conservatively, like a manager stuck in a plan? That picking a consistent (and best) eleven meant that Arteta was risk averse? Well, explain Zinchenko then, because there’s a player to bring any rule-bound manager out in a glacially cold sweat.

Zinchenko is perfect for Arteta because the perfect Arteta player sits in the centre of the classic Venn diagram of three circles. They need physical brilliance, emotional maturity and mental sharpness. To play for Mikel you need to be a highly tuned athlete with Zen-like mind control and the craftiness of a fox on the hunt. A lot of players have two out of three (which ain’t bad) but Zinny hit’s the jackpot. He’s reads games like a chess player, predicting scenarios, running through possibilities, calmly scouring the pitch for opportunities. He’s out-leaping towering opponents like he’s graduated from the salmon school of jumping and he’s gliding and darting around the pitch like a great white searching for opportunities where no one thought to look. Whenever he’s got the ball his teammates are all systems go because, like footballing Whac-A-Mole, you never know who’s next in line for a pinged pass or a narrow one-two.

The way Zinchenko plays almost makes me think that Arteta is accidentally revealing an unbeknownst self-destructive side to his personality. It’s like Arteta has spent so much time thinking about and creating the most meticulous and impenetrable team of immaculately coached players, and then in a delirious moment of insane contrarianism he throws a spinning spanner into his perfect engineering. “Yeah, do whatever you want mate, run about anywhere, whatever!” It almost makes me think that, but not quite, because Zinchenko isn’t a spanner in the works, he’s the spanner that makes it work.

It’s fascinating to watch Arteta’s experimentation in real time, to see him choose new pieces and construct the footballing work of art that is Arsenal these days. Yes, sometimes he get’s it wrong, he steps back and needs to look again. Sometimes he realises that he needs to rebalance the whole thing, so he rights his wrongs and sure enough the whole team makes more sense, becomes more special, more extraordinary. And sometimes he gets it right first time and when he steps back we see something we’ve never seen before and we think, wow, will ya look at that! Zinchenko, with his supernatural capacity to appear everywhere at all times, seems to somehow improve the balance of the whole team.

Ok, maybe I’ve gone too far with this Portrait Of An Footballing Artist, maybe the Joycean desire to struggle against the restrictions life imposes has influenced my thinking about Zinchenko and encouraged me to break rules myself, maybe I’ve overdone the hurricane of metaphors (I should have just called him an interesting left back and been done with it), maybe I’m hopping over the football writing guardrails comparing footballers to artistic and literary maverick’s, but isn’t that the beauty of a player like Zinchenko? That his playing style reveals the unpredictability and fluidity of the world both inside and outside of football? Just when you thought something was immovable and anchored forever in place, suddenly and without warning, everything changes and new possibilities open up?

This season has been a succession of confounding assumptions and rising expectations, from Eddie’s transformation from not-so-certain-sub to boom, boom, Nketiah’s in the room, and from Arsenal casting aside their lingering imposter syndrome to rightfully sitting atop the Premiership, this has been one hell of a double take of a season and I’ve loved every minute of it

So, if Arsenal can throw off the shackles and free themselves to become the team to fear, wring the neck of every self-fulfilling prophesy thrown at them and play like they’ve always been that team, then hey, let’s all do the same and never accept anything less!

Guest post from Jonathon Foster from his excellent ArsenalWonderland substack columns

Tags Oleksandr Zinchenko


  1. I liked his playmaking skills and high-risk passes, but sometimes he lost the ball in dangerous areas

  2. Nobody Is Perfect. But You Measure A Person By Comparing Their Rights To Wrongs. From The Overall Difference(s), You Can Then Make Your Deductions And Inferences.

  3. Having read a few of the Wonderland articles I knew what to expect from Jonathon, and I was not in any way disappointed by the sheer eloquence and persuasiveness of his highly articulate article.Indeed I now find I have to prepare myself mentally to face the barrage of wonderfully descriptive sentences which flow from his keyboard in order to give his articles the attention they deserve.A response on the veracity of some of his assertions is probably warranted but I cannot bring myself to criticise such an imaginative article from a writer who should perhaps consider spreading his wings into fiction where he could probably make a very good living.Keep up the good work Jonathon.

    1. Thanks Grandad. That’s very generous of you to be so kind. And, in fact, peculiarly prescient because I’ve recently started trying to write fiction! I was just thinking this morning “mmm I dunno about this” and then you come out of the blue and write this comment. So I’m going to get back on the fiction horse and ride on 🙂 Thank you.

  4. I just mention about zinchenko in another article then wow jonathan come out with a great piece of article. Even though i have to read it a few time to understand.. 😁😁But great piece btw..

  5. Had to take my time to read the article, not because of Zinny but a well worded article of such deserves and encouraging readers. Thanks for the writing mate.

  6. Just the word use alone can make one forget what the article is about. I’m really proud of this piece. Even JON FOX too will be. This are getting uncommon these days.

  7. I do like this article. The comparisons are so good. Watching zinny play reminds me of Bayern munchen legend Philip Lahm. Who was so good as a fullback. But cast him in midfield he was at home so, nice to watch. Intricate passes perfectly timed tackles and interceptions. Well calculated mannouvers and movements. Isn’t that what zinny is? IAM waiting anxiously to see zinny replicate that. Take up party position seamlessly.

  8. Opinions aside, congratulations on the most eloquent and erudite article I have read on this forum.

  9. Jonathon, I hope you will not take this thought amiss, as I am lost in admiration of your wordy prose and magnetic descriptions, but the prose is SO descriptive that the whole piece becomes rather hard to read and understand without going back over your words several times.

    I find your extremely flowery style both admirable AND somewhat irritating, about a mere footballer, to be honest.

    i do feel you are going way over the top in describing the admirable Zinny and making him into more a superpower hero than a top class footballer.
    It may well simply be that I am unused to reading this style of praise about ANY player and possibly, in time, I might come to enjoy it more.

    But, unused to such flowery footballer praise as I am, I do find it difficult to enjoy, even though I admire your talent to use words immensely.

    Perhaps, as Grandad said, you may be better off writing fiction. Your style would, I feel be extremely suited to fiction or fantasy writing.

    Hope, once again, you do not take this amiss!

    It is just my personal view and others will certainly feel differently. I hope so anyway!

    1. I don’t mind at all jon fox, all ideas and advice are welcome if you ask me 🙂

      I think Grandad made a good point too when he said he had to “prepare himself mentally”. It’s all helpful to the learning process.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  10. Not the typical JA article and the majority of us have been positively impacted by it

    Not particularly relevant, but I watched a short video of OZ waving and cheering at Arsenal supporters on his route away from the ground on Sunday. So much passion and sheer enjoyment from him which was loudly mirrored by the fans

  11. One of the best reads in all my time on JA ,fantastic from start to finish 👍
    It’s quite hard to put words that flow so easily for us normal folk .

  12. Yup, the greatest playmaker from LB in history if he continues like this together with club success for the next 5-6 years. Dani Alves was a force at RB while at Seville. He was their conductor from deep right. Franz Beckenbaeur did that from deep center. Andrea Pirlo reinvented the midfield anchor and Francesco Totti made the false 9 famous. Yes, even before Messi. I’m glad that Mikel Arteta got his team compact and steady in his positional play before adapting Wengerball to attack. The pace, movement and technique to bamboozled the opponents to submission.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed this article about the maestro that is Zinchenko. Thank you, Jonathon!

    Zinchenko is Arsenal, and Arsenal is Zinchenko.

    Allez, allez, allez!

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