Chelsea’s policy of signing as many talented youngsters as possible is in full force this winter. After bringing in David Datro Fofana – and soon, Andrey Santos – the Blues have turned their attention to 19-year-old Russian midfielder Arsen Zakharyan.
They did previously try to sign him in the summer and agreed on personal terms, but technical issues regarding the transfer of the fee to Dynamo Moscow due to sanctions placed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine prevented the deal from going through. It is unclear whether that issue has been resolved, but recent quotes from Zakharyan’s agent seem to suggest that the move could be possible.
So, let us take a closer look at Zakharyan’s game to see why Chelsea are pushing so hard to sign him.
Well-rounded number eight
While coming up the ranks at Dynamo, Zakharyan played a variety of positions including on both wings and as a number ten, but with the senior squad, he seems to have settled as a number eight. They have used a 4-3-3 formation for the last couple of seasons, so the young midfielder has been used as a number eight in the senior side since establishing himself as a regular starter in early 2021.
This season, he has been used on either side of midfield, so his heatmap shows heavy activity both in the right and left halfspaces.
Image credit: Sofascore
The fact that Zakharyan has been a frequent starter for one of the top clubs at a fairly strong European league for a couple of years as a teenager tells you all about his quality and potential. In fact, he is not just a regular player – he is one of the better ones in the whole league.
A closer look at some of his stats in his pizza chart shows that he is a well-rounded midfielder, especially for someone of his age. His creativity clearly stands out, but he chips in with a decent amount of goals and contributes to his team’s defensive efforts as well.
We will focus on his playmaking in a bit, but let us cover a couple of other attributes first.
His defensive contribution primarily comes through pressing, as he is smart and always willing to step forward to try and win the ball back in a dangerous area. He does not generally defend too deep, though, so he would not be suited to a two-man midfield out of possession.
In the final third, Zakharyan does not tend to get into the box a lot, but he can still pose a serious goal threat. That is because his long shooting ability is quite good, mostly thanks to his ball-striking ability on his right foot.
The young midfielder can generate a lot of power on his shots with his instep, which means they are very accurate too.
Last season, Zakharyan scored seven goals in the league, the majority of which came from range. He has already got four in all competitions this season, and his shotmap shows his tendency to let fly from distance.
As we previously alluded to, Zakharyan is at his best when he is looking to pass the ball. He is the definition of a playmaker – someone who is always looking to make things happen with the ball.
In addition to his pinpoint passing ability, the 19-year-old Russian international possess great vision and spatial awareness, which allow him to take up very threatening positions in the halfspaces between opposition lines. Therefore, his most common move is to get into such an area, receive a pass and immediately play it forward with one or two touches.
That is his favourite move on either side of the pitch, so he tends to play a lot of through balls. Such passes naturally are risky in nature, which is why Zakharyan has completed just over three in four passes in the league this season and loses the ball quite often.
That trade-off is absolutely worth it. The young midfielder had six assists in the Russian Premier League last season and already has 5 this time out, averaging 2.7 key passes per 90 at the moment. It should be noted that his status as Dynamo’s first-choice set-piece taker boosts these statistics, but there is no doubting his creative brilliance.
Besides through passes from relatively deeper areas, Zakharyan is also quite dangerous in the final third. It is easy to see why, since his quick passing and ability to pick up pockets of space prove particularly handy in this region of the pitch.
If Zakharyan is so good at operating and causing problems in tight areas, opponents might look to defend in a deep and compact block to limit his threat. However, it is not wise to allow him to drop deep and have time on the ball either, because he will find some way to unlock the defence.
For these reasons, it is easy to see why the 19-year-old Russian international already is an excellent playmaker. He is dangerous from deep, almost a magician between the lines with how quickly he can move the ball on, and a menace in the final third too.
One thing Zakharyan does not do too often is try to carry the ball past an opponent, averaging less than one take-on per match. The reason behind this mainly is the fact that he tends to pass it on so quickly, and given the centrality of his area of operation, he does not find a lot of opportunities to take players on anyway.
There is no guarantee that Zakharyan will move to Chelsea, but if he does, he might want a straight shot at a first team spot. Indeed, the Blues are a little light in the midfield department, but they really need reinforcement in the deeper areas.
They already have a creative number eight/number ten in Mason Mount, while Conor Gallagher can play a similar role too. Therefore, Zakharyan should not be seen as an immediate signing and likely is one for the future – just like Cesare Casadei and Carney Chukwuemeka.
If his move to Chelsea does not go through, the 19-year-old is certain to continue impressing in the Russian Premier League. His contract runs till the summer of 2024, so more clubs are surely going to start taking an interest in him in future windows as well.