Arsenal’s season couldn’t have gone much better as they enter the World Cup break top of the Premier League with their only two defeats happening against Manchester United and PSV Eindhoven in the Europa League. However Mikel Arteta’s squad depth has been tested throughout with questions being raised as to whether he has the squad to challenge for the Premier League title.
One specific area that has been tested is at left-back where Oleksandr Zinchenko has been injury prone, although impressive. Other options include Takehiro Tomiyasu who has been played at left-back by Arteta even though he is naturally a right-back and also Kieran Tierney, who has not played much Premier League football.
This article will look at Mikel Arteta’s left-back dilemma heading into the second half of the season and reasons why all three players will play their part in Arsenal’s gruelling season.
The obvious choice for Arteta is his Ukrainian summer signing from Manchester City in the form of Oleksandr Zinchenko. The 25 year-old is influential in Arteta’s system as he is a hybrid left-back/central midfielder with his role allowing the team to regain possession early and effectively suffocate the midfield areas. However Zinchenko has only played in seven of Arsenal’s 14 Premier League games this season due to a few small injuries, which could highlight why the Ukrainian didn’t get much game time under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Also Zinchenko’s lack of physicality and occasional defensive vulnerability has often raised questions as to whether he is the long term solution. Those questions and concerns should be answered in the second half of the season when Arsenal face sterner tests after Christmas.
Should Zinchenko continue to be injury prone, then the natural replacement is Scottish international Kieran Tierney. Tierney has also suffered a few injury setbacks but since returning hasn’t been trusted to fulfil the left-back role. Tierney’s more attacking mindset to race forward and create chances means there is more space to exploit for the opposition in defensive areas.
Arteta likes his teams to dominate the midfield areas and have the midfielders to press the attackers which is something that Tierney’s style of play doesn’t suit. Even though Tierney has only started three games in the Premier League, he has been a main feature of Arsenal’s Europa League campaign with his goal sealing Arsenal’s top spot in the group. Having said that, it may take a lot more than confidence in the Europa League to make Tierney a main starter in Arteta’s effective system.
The final option is a surprising option for many people as it’s in the form of a natural right-back, Takehiro Tomiyasu. Tomiyasu came to the club from Bologna, expected to be the club’s number one right-back but than honour has since gone to Ben White. The Japanese star’s injuries have once again played a part in that decision with White being highly effective in that position in both defence and attack.
However since the game against Liverpool, Arteta has deployed Tomiyasu at left-back with mixed results being produced. Tomiyasu’s physical presence and defensive intelligence has been essential against expansive teams but against teams that produce a defensive block, it has been an underwhelming tactic. Given Arteta’s tactical stubbornness, it’s likely that Tomiyasu will be trusted in big games if Zinchenko isn’t available but the Japanese star may need to take more risks against more defensive opposition if he wants to guarantee a place in starting XI.
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In conclusion, Zinchenko is the obvious choice at left-back with his tactical efficiency in midfield proving essential to Arteta’s system. However his previous injuries raise questions over how sustainable his role can be over a league season. This means Arteta has a choice between Tomiyasu’s physicality and defensive solidity or Tierney’s attacking versatility.
Either way Arteta will need to be less stubborn with his decision-making as Tomiyasu has proven to be ineffective against more defensive teams. While Tierney’s attacking approach at full-back means less control against more expansive teams in the Premier League.
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