Mikel Arteta appears to have found the ideal replacement for Martin Odegaard – and it’s not Fabio Vieira, it’s Oleksandr Zinchenko. The 26-year-old defender, who actually tends to slot into midfield despite being a left-back on paper, played a crucial role in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Burnley, pulling the strings in the middle of the park.
Zinchenko revolutionised how the Gunners play under Arteta following his transfer from Manchester City last summer, featuring as an inverted full-back. Being an attacking midfielder at heart from his days at Shakhtar Donetsk, the Ukraine international dictated possession and unlocked a new dimension to Arsenal’s build-up play.
After playing a major role in the Gunners’ Premier League title race last term, many believed that he was operating at the peak of his powers. But, in the asbcence of Martin Odegaard, Zinchenko has proved recently that there’s at least one more evolution in the tank and he could have an exciting future in the left hand-side number eight role.
The Ukrainian marshalled the left half-space to excellent effect against Vincent Kompany’s side, and Arteta was delighted with what he saw. Post-match, the Arsenal boss said: “Very happy with him. Especially against these teams the fluidity, threat that he brings, the spaces that he occupies and opens for other players is critical.
“I really liked how defensively committed he was today. The goal is a really good example of how he’s living the game – when the ball is far from him, he’s the first on the ball, that’s why he scores the goal. That’s what we need from him.”
While Zinchenko has been impressive, it will be difficult to displace Odegaard from the starting lineup. When asked if the Arsenal captain will go join up with the Norway squad over the international break, Arteta remained coy.
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“I don’t know,” said the Spaniard. “I am going to have a meeting now with the medical department and Edu to understand everyone’s situation but I think he is going to be back after the international break. I don’t know exactly what is the decision and the communication at the moment.”
Arsenal head into the break second in the Premier League table, with only four goals separating them from Manchester City, who have a game in hand which will be played against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. As the title race begins to build a head of steam, Arteta had some fighting words for Pep Guardiola.
“I prefer to be at the top but this is what we have to do,” said the Gunners boss. “We showed a lot of consistency both in the way we are playing and competing and in results so lets carry on, get some momentum now and get some players back and go again.”