Football Features

Wilfried Zaha would increase Arsenal’s dribbling output by 37% if the Palace star gets his way

By Ben Green

Published: 13:06, 27 June 2019

After 13 years – across two spells – Crystal Palace’s academy talisman Wilfried Zaha could be set to leave Selhurst Park this summer and make the short journey across the M25.

The Ivorian wing-wizard has made no secret of his desire to play European football, and reports are now emerging he wants to move north of the River Thames and join Arsenal, who are said to reciprocate that interest.

His previous big-money move was a failed transfer to Manchester United in 2013, but since those formative years, the 26-year-old has matured immensely, and is now considered one of the Premier League’s most consistent and threatening forwards.

A move to Arsenal would make sense for both parties. Under Unai Emery, the Gunners have struggled to offer much of an attacking menace from the flanks, with Alex Iwobi the club’s only real traditional winger.

But with the return of Reiss Nelson and a potential swoop for the league’s ankle-shattering dribble doyen, Arsenal could be a completely different beast next season.

So, what do the stats say? Well, they suggest Arsenal really should go all-out and sign Zaha. But how could the agile Eagle truly transform Arsenal’s fragile flanks and bring a completely new dimension to Emery’s style of play?

Throwback flanks

Over the years Arsenal had become accustomed to brilliant wide players, with Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg the two emblematic wingers of ‘The Invincibles’ era, while Marc Overmars was another elegant No. 11 who embodied the trailblazing formula of Arsene Wenger’s early years at the helm.

Well, those days when Arsenal would offer a mix of world-class explosion and goalscoring pedigree from the flanks now seem from a bygone age.

Last season, Arsenal ranked 14th in the Premier League for dribbles attempted (583), and 12th for dribbles completed (304). Compare that to Zaha alone, who attempted the most of any player (249) and completed the second-most (113) – that’s over a third of Arsenal’s total, meaning Zaha would increase the Gunner’s dribbling output by 37% should the Palace star relocate to north London.

Emery often tinkered with inside forwards last term – notably Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil – while also deploying Golden Boot winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left flank, so the prospect of a traditional wide-two with Nelson, Iwobi or Zaha occupying the space is a mouthwatering prospect for Arsenal fans.

Wilfried Za-VAR

Well, here we go. VAR will finally come into play in the Premier League as of next season, and it is almost guaranteed to up the penalty count by some margin – just look at the Women’s World Cup.

With that being the case, Arsenal should look to take an early advantage as Premier League referees get used to the revolutionary technology, by recruiting a player who seems to cause all sorts of confusion in the penalty box: Zaha.

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Last season no player won more penalties than the Palace winger (6), which, for a player outside the ‘Big Six’ could be considered quite an achievement depending which way you look at it.

And so, with the video assistant referee entering the top flight, we could see an increase in spot-kicks awarded. Signing Zaha, one of the division’s trickiest forwards, would therefore go some way to ensuring Arsenal are among the teams to profit from the new technology, rather than those made to suffer from it.

It should also be noted that last campaign Arsenal were awarded five penalties, two fewer than Liverpool, six fewer than Crystal Palace, and seven fewer than Manchester United. Expect those numbers to increase if Zaha turns up.

View from the terrace

If Arsenal fans need any convincing of what Zaha could offer their attack, then they should cast their minds back to April 21, a match in which Zaha ran riot at the Emirates.

During Palace’s shock 3-2 victory over the Gunners, Zaha was a notable standout performer, bagging his side’s second of the match after outmanoeuvring Shkodran Mustafi and comfortably slotting past Bernd Leno.

But it wasn’t just his finish that caught the eye. The 26-year-old wreaked havoc the entire 90 minutes with his slaloming runs, nimble footwork and insatiable shimmies – but don’t just take my word for it…

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