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Arsenal: Oleksandr Zinchenko returns with a bang

Arsenal’s mettle has really been tested in recent weeks but Mikel Arteta’s side have swatted away doubters and those who criticise them to rise to the top of the Premier League table.

There is now one game week to go before the World Cup and should they finish at the top of the tree heading into the break, it would be quite the achievement.

The Gunners have come a long way since last term already and look in a good place to end the entire campaign in the top four.

That is the ultimate goal for Arteta’s men but if they can reach those positions while challenging for the title at the same time, few inside the Emirates Stadium will complain.

They have defeated Arsenal and Liverpool, and saw off Chelsea on Sunday afternoon too, with the Islington outfit showing a steel very few of their teams have shown in the last decade.

Resolute and rock solid at the back, they held firm to pick up a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge with Gabriel finding the net from point-blank range in the second half.

Arsenal looked comfortable going forward and although they didn’t create a huge amount of clear-cut chances, were deserving of the three points they took home.

It was a day full of positives but perhaps the biggest was that of Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Ukrainian hasn’t played since the start of October due to a calf problem but returned to the side with a bang.

Rather forced into the XI due to an injury to Takehiro Tomiyasu, the former Manchester City man showed what they’ve been missing in that position; a sense of composure.

Kieran Tierney was back to his best in the win over Zurich in midweek, scoring the game’s only goal, while Tomiyasu helped to pocket Salah in the victory over Liverpool.

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However, Zinchenko gives Arsenal’s manager something very different with the 25-year-old able to play the inverted full-back role to perfection.

His natural ability as a central midfielder means he is able to pick up pockets of space in central areas, with the Ukraine international ghosting into positions where he operates as a deep-lying playmaker.

Indeed, in the heat map above (via SofaScore) we can see that one of the places Zinchenko operated the most was in a central area just inside his own half.

That allowed Granit Xhaka to move forward more freely in a role he has excelled in this season, with Arsenal’s number 35 playing next to Thomas Partey.

It’s a role that neither Tomiyasu or Tierney are as confident in with The Athletic suggesting post-match that he offers a “different dimension” to the Gunners.

His return to the side sparked wide acclaim with former sports editor, Dan Levy, claiming it was a “heroic effort” for the Ukrainian to play in the way he did so soon after coming back from injury.

During the course of the clash, Zinchenko was incredibly assured, completing 83% of his passes from 56 touches of the ball.

Furthermore, the Premier League title winner prevailed in 85% of his defensive duels and didn’t give away a single foul.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his afternoon was the way he dealt with Raheem Sterling. Usually such an effervescent and tricky customer, the England international endured a torrid afternoon on the right-hand side of Chelsea’s attack, failing in five of his six attempted dribbles.

It was a superb display by the summer signing and one that proves exactly why Edu paid £30m to secure his services. Displays in games as big as this is evidence that the technical director has secured an absolute bargain in the transfer market.