Poor old Oleksandr Zinchenko. This time last year, it was he who was garnering all the hype.
Sweating in elegance with his long, Bond villain-esque name; Zinchenko was once the shiny new toy on the tip of every Arsenal fan’s tongue. The Ukrainian’s impact in north London was immediate, with his skill set proving pivotal in the Gunners’ tactical evolution and their success in 2022/23.
However, it hasn’t taken long for a new man to steal Zinchenko’s graceful thunder. An injury to the left-back at the end of last season has kept him out of action all summer, with recent arrival Jurrien Timber swiftly reminding this writer why he regarded him as the bargain of the window.
While Zinchenko’s the good ol’ reliable Woody from Toy Story, Timber’s the trendy fresh toy on the block. He’s Buzz Lightyear. Think Zinchenko… only more versatile, more powerful, and more competent in defence. Sure, he might not boast the Ukrainian’s innate refinement with the ball at his feet, but Timber’s certainly not far off.
The former Ajax star has made a lot of noise in pre-season, with supporters clamouring for his regular inclusion once the campaign gets underway. And while Timber’s immediate brilliance has forced supporters to remind themselves that Oleksandr Zinchenko still exists, the Ukrainian remains at the forefront of Arteta’s plans. He’s simply too significant to what the Spaniard’s attempting to achieve at the Emirates.
So, that begs the question: can Timber and Zinchenko co-exist?
Can Jurrien Timber and Oleksandr Zinchenko play in the same team?
Yes is the simple answer.
Timber’s flexibility means he can play across the back four, and we could see the Dutchman line up at centre-back with Zinchenko inverting from the left. What’s more likely, though, is that we see the pair deployed together at full-back. Timber would displace Ben White, and we could see a structure shift in possession.
Instead of last season’s predictable 3-2-5, Timber could also invert from the right and create a three-man base alongside Partey and Zinchenko. A 2-3-5 would thus be forged, with greater onus on the two #8s getting higher up the pitch and penetrating in behind. Timber’s role would be unlike White’s and more similar to Zinchenko’s. It’d hand Arsenal even greater midfield control, and stronger protection against the transition. Although, the two centre-backs could be more stretched in wide areas.
Zinchenko’s injury means we’ll have to wait a little while for Arteta to even consider this option, but I have no doubts we’ll see it in the not-so-distant future. Timber’s versatility was perhaps the defender’s greatest selling point, with his capacity to play multiple roles ensuring Arteta now has various options in terms of build-up structure.
His presence single-handedly makes Arsenal more unpredictable, and greater variance (along with increased squad depth) was the next stage in the club’s evolution.
Watching the pair of unicorns operate in tandem should be nothing short of joyous, and it seems as if Zinchenko himself is at the prospect.
“I do know about him because I watched him and followed the way he played at Ajax,” he recently said. “Also, I played against him for the national team so I know about him as a player, what amazing qualities he has, and now I know him off the pitch.”
It’s a matter of when, not if, we see these two masterful footballers line up together in north London.