Arsenal

What Arteta did after Zinchenko error vs Liverpool speaks volumes on Arsenal defensive plan

The Ukrainian had a difficult afternoon at Anfield, but it seems as though the Gunners boss is intent on standing by him

Jurgen Klopp had spent four days trying to build up the Anfield atmosphere. It took Arsenal just four minutes to silence it. As Gabriel cupped his ears to the Kop end following his early opener there was one Arsenal man dragging the Gunners players into a huddle. The inclination was to rush back to the centre circle with joyous ecstasy, but Oleksandr Zinchenko wanted to remind his teammates to keep a cool head. If only he could have practised what he preached.

Despite his attempts to exude calmness, the Ukrainian offered up a chaotic energy for much of the game. While he was key to Arsenal’s impressive start at Anfield, the familiar questions over his defensive capabilities began to quickly raise their head

While any defender could have been beaten by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s spectacular ball over the Arsenal backline to Mo Salah, another full-back would surely have engaged the Egyptian outside of the box before he was able to cut in and finish past David Raya. That was really the tip of the iceberg for Zinchenko.

Before the game Mikel Arteta had described Anfield as being like a washing machine and Zinchenko’s start to the second half only served to speed up the spin rate. In this pre-festive fixture, the Ukrainian was twice caught napping on the edge of the box like a man who had eaten far too big a Christmas lunch. After the second instance – where Mo Salah could, and maybe should, have punished Arsenal – Arteta turned to his bench and puffed his cheeks with exasperation.

We gave so many balls away after regaining it,” he said in his post-match press conference without specifically referencing Zinchenko. “That’s the worst moment against them because they are really good on the counter-press. We lost it in areas that are prohibited against them and we could have been punished.”

 

Arteta though has consistently insisted that he feels the juice is worth the squeeze with Zinchenko. There are plenty of full backs who can offer more defensive solidity than the 26-year-old but few can offer the midfield control that Arsenal crave so desperately.

Arteta has insisted that he is willing to accept Zinchenko’s flaws. “You have to love him, how he is,” the Spaniard said earlier this month. “He has strengths and weaknesses and Alex has got many more strengths.” As Zinchenko forced Raya into a scrambling stretch to prevent the concession of a late corner with one of the last kicks of the bench, Arteta’s knowing smile to his bench suggested his opinion has not really changed.

The defensive frailties of the Ukrainian are something he has tried to address by signing Jurrien Timber, while Takehiro Tomiyasu would surely have been on the pitch for those closing stages at Anfield if he wasn’t also struggling with injury. As Arsenal begin the busiest time of the year, Zinchenko is all Arteta has though. In the spirit of Christmas, it seems that he is willing to forgive and forget.

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