I am going to credit Arteta with shaping the way we now see many teams operating in the Premier League. Zinchenko’s role, nominally left-back but drifting into the middle to partner Thomas Partey when in possession, seems to have inspired many managers to try something similar this season.
We have seen high profile managers such as Pep and Ten Hag trying to force-fit this style into their team to varying degrees of success. Trying to play this way has seen the downfall of Joao Cancelo, last season’s star player, at Man City.
While on the other side of Manchester we have witnessed Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia drifting into a midfield role at points during their games. Many have tried to make this work, but I feel confident in saying only Arsenal have made it look good.
Fortunately on that occasion we weren’t punished in the points column but it hasn’t and won’t always be the case. The other great cost to playing this way is to Kieran Tierney’s happiness and long-term future at the club.
I will go on record as stating I believe Tierney to be a superior defender to Zinchenko. However, and this is where the problems lie, Tierney is an old school full back. Rampaging runs down the flank supporting his winger and tracking back to make last ditch tackles in the box. He is a proper player, but maybe a bit too conventional for Mikel.
One thing I have advocated for is to play them both. Allow Tierney to play and do his thing, which will in turn give Martinelli some much needed support with overlapping runs to occupy the opposing defender and let Zinchenko play in midfield where he clearly wants to and feels most comfortable.
Arsenal have the personnel to make a 5-2-3 system similar to that which we saw at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel work. Remember, Tierney plays on the left side on a 3 man defence for Scotland while Robertson plays as a wing back. Our team could function with both, but it would mean a bit of flexibility from Arteta which I don’t see happening.
Even a nominal 5 man defence with Zinchenko stepping into midfield could work. We will see. It was only last season people were clambering for him to be the next captain. I hope Arteta finds a way for Tierney to play because he is too good to sit on the bench.