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Tierney or Zinchenko against Aston Villa?

A piece on which left back Mikel Arteta should choose to start this weekend.

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Who should start against Aston Villa, KT or Zini?

Oleksandr Zinchenko has been a crucial part of what Mikel Arteta has summoned this season at Arsenal. His influence both on and off the pitch is so critical that it has helped to create the position Arsenal find themselves in at the top end of the Premier League table.

However, will the Ukrainian find himself out of the Gunners starting lineup for their vital clash against Aston Villa on Wednesday?

After becoming a graduate under Pep Guardiola’s Premier League winning side, Zinchenko contributed to them winning the Premier League on 4 different occasions and won 4 English League Cups plus an FA cup in the process.

Throughout his spell under the Spaniard in Manchester, it is fair to say that Guardiola played a pivotal part into the development of Zinchenko, helping him to grow into the player that he is today.

However, in the aftermath of a sluggish performance against Manchester City on Wednesday, is he fit enough to play in what is a must win game for Arsenal this weekend?

This season Arsenal are blessed with tremendous quality when it comes to depth in the left back position with Scottish international Kieran Tierney previously occupying that position before Zinchenko’s arrival back in July 2022.

Upon Zinchenko’s arrival at the club, it was clear to all that there would be fierce competition between the two players with the prize being a regular starting spot for the club. With fantastic displays from Tierney on a regular basis, he was one of the few players that Mikel Arteta had inherited from previous manager Unai Emery.

Usually, managers tend to prefer players that they themselves have bought as they can coach, mould, and train them into playing a certain style of football of their liking. However brilliant these two players may be, their contrast in playstyle has become a popular talking point amongst fans.

Tierney is a more defensive minded player who plays in a more linear fashion, a fast-paced full back who is never one to shy away from a challenge. However, as time progressed there was a key issue which needed addressing; his injuries were slowly becoming a problem.

On the 4th of April 2022, Kieran Tierney was announced to have picked up a knee injury, forcing him to spend the rest of the season away from the squad. Subsequently, new summer signing Nuno Tavares was required to step up and fill that position. This was not an easy task as not only were there big boots to fill but the Portuguese defender was inexperienced and very raw.

After inconsistent performances from the youngster, 22 at the time, a drop in quality was evident. This was a significant factor in Arsenal narrowly missing out on a vital top four position, something that the club so desperately needed as the club had not finished in a Champions League position since the 2016/2017 season.

After Tierney’s return it was unknown whether Arteta would trust the player, with his injury record looming over him. Doubts began to enter fans minds over whether he would be a sustainable player for Arsenal. On July 22nd, 2022 news broke that Arsenal had signed Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City.

Oleksandr was a player who Arteta himself had chosen and had a connection with after previously working together during Mikel’s time as assistant coach at Manchester City. As Arteta has had previous experience with the player it was clear that he was selected to better suit Arsenal’s playstyle and help gel the team together.

Zinchenko’s qualities include his unmatched leadership, passion, heart, and desire. When it comes to his technical ability no one at the club does it better. Not only have we seen his presence in defence but his ability to play as an inverted left back has not gone unnoticed.

On countless occasions this season we have seen Zinchenko dropping into the midfield, something that Tierney isn’t able to offer. This enables Zinchenko to push further up the pitch, creating opportunities for Granit Xhaka to play in his newly developed “Box to Box” role.

When Zinchenko does drop into the midfield, he forms a midfield duo consisting of himself and Thomas Partey. This means that Arsenal essentially plays with two attacking minded midfielders (Odegaard and Xhaka) with the front three remaining the same.

Despite Tierney having better defensive capabilities than Zinchenko, when seeing it from a tactical viewpoint Zinchenko clearly offers more as the whole team benefits from his quality. So where does the dilemma lie?

Very few teams this season have attempted to go toe-to-toe with Arsenal. They know that most likely they do not have the quality to match Arsenal, as a result, it will mean that they are likely to be exploited and caught out.

Teams tend to sit back and defend, letting Arsenal come at them with everything they’ve got, and hit back on them on the counter-attack. This is something that we see underdog sides do, in able to exploit the opposition.

They will come at you time and time again, often “thumping” the ball forward and long. Creating a discussion point and questioning over the fact that a player such as Kieran Tierney is arguably better suited for specific and certain games.

An example of a game like this would be against Aston Villa. Tierney’s pace will enable him to keep up with the flow of the game and his desire and hunger will have only grown ever since he became second fiddle to Zinchenko.

Often, you see players with a lack of game time put in a better performance as an attempt to prove their manager wrong and becoming regular starters once more. Another factor to consider is that would the dropping of Zinchenko affect his own confidence? Some may believe that this may suggest a lack in trust from Arteta in a time where he should be backing the players the most.

As Saturday afternoon draws ever nearer, we are all waiting to see which tactics Mikel Arteta will employ against Arsenal’s old friend, Unai Emery.

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