Football Features

Arsenal experience the good and bad of Oleksandr Zinchenko in narrow win over Wolves

By Harry Edwards

Published: 17:21, 2 December 2023

Arsenal moved four points clear at the top of the Premier League table with a 2-1 win over Wolves, with Oleksandr Zinchenko showing both sides of his game.

With all of their title rivals playing on Sunday, this was a chance for Arsenal to lay down the gauntlet and pile the pressure on. The Gunners will have been pretty confident of a victory, winning eight of their 10 home games this season, drawing the other two, and unbeaten at the Emirates in 11.

Arsenal had also won each of their last four Premier League games against Wolves, following a poor run of two victories in eight prior.

It took the Gunners just six minutes to open the scoring with Bukayo Saka continuing his fantastic season, now scoring or assisting in 10 different Premier League games so far this campaign. Before the 15-minute mark it was two, as Martin Odegaard capped off a great team move. But both goals were all about the full-backs getting involved.

For Saka’s opener, Takehiro Tomiyasu was the man to provide the assist, receiving the ball after great hold-up play from Gabriel Jesus. Tomiyasu’s pass into Saka was neat, having pushed high up the pitch with Arsenal on the attack, with three assists for the Japanese full-back in his past two games across all competitions.

Saka did make the goal with his touch to beat the defender and cool finish, after a bit of fortune with the ball rebounding, but Tomiyasu deserves his flowers for a good run of form.

The second goal was even better. Arsenal held onto the ball well, not looking to rush things around the Wolves box, waiting for the right moment. The ball was switched over to the left to Zinchenko, who played the ball into Jesus and continued his run into the box.

It was a good return pass from Jesus to Zinchenko, who pulled the ball back to Odegaard on the edge of the box to finish well. Two goals, two full-back assists.

Zinchenko had a great first half, in fact, finishing with 50 touches, the most on the pitch at the time. He’d also completed 96% of his passes, made 20 passes in the final third and won possession five times.

It was a similar showing in the second half offensively, with Zinchenko and Tomiyasu both getting really involved in the game. While you normally see centre-backs high up in touches for defenders, for Arsenal against Wolves it was the full-backs. Only Odegaard (97) and Declan Rice (101) had more touches than Zinchenko’s 21, while Tomiyasu was fourth on 86 in his 79 minutes on the pitch.

At the time of Tomiyasu’s substitution (due to injury), being replaced by Ben White, Arsenal were 2-0 up and cruising. But the game finished 2-1 with Zinchenko also showing the bad side of his game.

For all his attacking influence completing 94.7% of his passes, Zinchenko is still lacking defensively, and did give up a few opportunities for Wolves throughout the game. Crucially, one led to a goal too.

In the build up, Zinchenko proved far too easy to beat for Pablo Sarabia but he was helped out by Declan Rice. Zinchenko picked up the ball inside his own box but was far too slow to move it ahead, also unaware of Nelson Semedo coming into challenge.

Semedo won the ball, poking it into the path of Cunha who finished emphatically to set up a nervy finish. Arsenal managed to hold on, but some fans were still left frustrated at the man that had helped so much offensively.