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Chelsea, Spurs or Arsenal? Pulling apart Zaha & where he should go next

The transfer window is open, and so Wilfried Zaha is being linked to a multitude of Premier League clubs. The Ivorian wide man has been a key player for Crystal Palace since returning to Selhurst Park in 2014, and is perennially touted for a step up.

Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are among the clubs to have been linked with him, but would he fit in tactically at any of London's biggest sides? Here, we at Tribal Football look to answer that question with the help of stats and graphics.


ZAHA'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

When watching Zaha play, the first thing that stands out is his desire to get on the ball and make something happen. At times he resembles a street footballer, with an ability to get by almost any defender with a bit of skill.

His dribbling is undoubtedly his primary technical quality. He loves running at opponents and has a tendency to confuse them with changes of direction and feints. One versus one, there is a solid argument that he is the best winger in the Premier League right now. Not many other players could get out of the situation below with the ball at feet.


Of course, the criticism is that he doesn't always turn this into a good final ball or shot. Beating a defender and opening up the game is one thing, but exploiting the situation created is another. Zaha has never produced the kind of numbers expected of a world class attacker – in terms of goals and assists – and that is perhaps what has stopped top clubs from attempting to sign him in the past.

However, there are other attributes besides his 1v1 ability that make the 27-year-old an intriguing prospect for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs to consider. Firstly, he is a hard worker – his attitude has been praised by manager Roy Hodgson in the past. Secondly, he is someone clearly comfortable with the responsibility of being a 'key man'. And finally, he is tactically versatile – while he operates mainly on the left wing, he has also performed effectively as a makeshift striker.


WOULD ZAHA SUIT ARSENAL?

Mikel Arteta has generally stuck by a basic 4-2-3-1 formation since his appointment as Arsenal manager in December, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe emerging recently as his first-choice wingers.

It's not yet entirely clear what Arteta's 'philosophy' is, but he has utilised the concept of overloading one side and Zaha would be a good option to get isolated on the other flank in these situations.

Aubameyang is one of Arsenal's key players, so the Crystal Palace man would probably find himself competing with Pepe for the right wing berth. And, while his dribbling is better than that of his compatriot, he lags behind in creation and shooting.

Pepe has more goals, a higher xG, a higher xA (expected assists), and more shots on target than Zaha per minute of team possession this season, while his shot to goal conversion rate is almost five per cent better.

Zaha prefers to play on the left wing, where Aubameyang resides. Indeed, as seen in the graphic below, Crystal Palace have built their attacking play around him – only one team attacks more down the left than they do.


He wouldn't suit coming inside off the right the way Pepe does, and he also doesn't put up the same numbers as Pepe. Considering all of this, it's difficult to see him forcing his way into Arteta's line-up.


WOULD ZAHA SUIT CHELSEA?

Chelsea, under Frank Lampard, have been an extremely flexible team. They have changed formation at various points of the season, reflecting their intentions in the game. When they want to attack, they can go 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1; at other times they can go 3-4-3.

One thing that has stayed reasonably consistent throughout has been the desire to get creative attacking individuals on the pitch, including Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Zaha's ability to play on the left or as a makeshift striker would suit Lampard's tactical versatility, while his pace and dribbling skill would suit the typical profile of a Chelsea attacker.

When it comes to getting into good scoring positions and finishing, he doesn't get close to Pulisic but isn't far off Willian. Comparatively, the Brazilian only gets 0.03 more shots on target per minute of team possession, while his conversion rate is only 0.6% higher.

Zaha also dribbles a lot more than Willian – 0.14 times per minute of team possession to Willian's 0.08 – and draws far more fouls too.

In a more attack-minded team, surrounded by players with quality movement and final third decision-making, it is possible that Zaha could fit into Lampard's 4-3-3 system.


WOULD ZAHA SUIT SPURS?

Jose Mourinho may not quite have figured out how to turn Tottenham into a winning machine just yet, but there have been promising signs early on in his tenure. He has implemented an entertaining brand of football within a lopsided 4-2-3-1 formation that could suit Zaha.

Right-back Serge Aurier tends to push on down the right flank, while the left-back stays deeper to support build-up and offer protection in defensive transition. The left winger, therefore, is responsible for providing attacking width on his side.

At present, Son Heung-min tends to take up the left wing berth. However, on occasions when Harry Kane isn't fully fit, the South Korean speedster may be required to play more through the middle. On such occasions, Zaha would offer good 1v1 threat on the left.

Not only does he dribble a lot more than Son, but his success percentage is just 0.1% lower – a difference that is virtually imperceptible. In a Spurs system designed to isolate the left winger, Zaha could thrive.

Blair Newman
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Blair Newman

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