Many had said to look out for CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev for Russia at Euro 2012, and two goals against the Czech Republic only raised the hype around the diminutive 21-year-old. Some have tentatively compared him to Andrey Arshavin, and this has added to speculation linking Dzagoev with Arsenal to replace his national team’s captain, with a goal against Poland only serving to increase that speculation.
Other than his goal, the Russian number 17 had a rather quiet game, flitting in and out of the game. In a 4-3-3, there were some key facets to his role and positioning; for one, he consistently made way for the overlapping Aleksandr Anyukov, drifting into a more central role off of Aleksandr Kerzhakov. This was two-fold however – with it being a very strict three in midfield, Denisov, Zyryanov and Shirokov all played fairly reserved, with-drawn roles, with none of them being creative outlets. The playmaking duties were left mainly up to Arshavin and in part Dzagoev, who both had license to drift inside, and fully utilised that.
Dzagoev also went looking for space in between the lines against Poland, with the left back Boenisch following him up until the half-way line on occasion. He constantly dropped in closer to the midfielders to offer an option, and kept showing for the ball, which showed a hunger to get involved and to help his team out.
He wasn’t always drawn to the ball however – a criticism of Samir Nasri at Arsenal – but often used his team mates as references in order to position himself to keep the team’s shape. This intelligence was echoed when he got the ball, as he was happy to play simple football when Russia needed to keep the ball in midfield.
Further forward Dzagoev had little opportunity to show off his dribbling skills, about which much has been spoken, but he often looked to provide killer passes when afforded space. An example of this was when he played a great ball in behind the defence for Kerzhakov – he played the ball in between two defenders, weighted perfectly for his team-mate, showing not only his awareness but his precision.
Russia’s front three were fluid – surprisingly not dissimilar to the movement of Spain’s forwards, and with Arshavin given freedom to roam, he often popped up on the right; Dzagoev and Kerzhakov adjusting their positions accordingly. The latter played something of a false 9 role, although didn’t drop deep enough into midfield to be classed as one. However, with Kerzhakov often finding himself out wide, Dzagoev wasn’t afraid to act as the focal point for Russia, and he showed he was fully capable of doing so.
His end product was mixed, with a few blocked attempts at killer passes, and one lofted cross from the left which sailed over everybody’s heads and went out for a goal kick. However, his decisive contribution came after 37 minutes. Arshavin stood over a free kick, and whipped it in. Dzagoev made a good run, attacked it, and the ball seemed to flick off of his shoulder before flying into the corner of the net. While the execution of the header may be questioned, he did well to find the space to create the opportunity for himself.
He later demonstrated more impressive movement in the box – firstly he was right to hold his run as Yuri Zhirkov dribbled into the box, offering a great option for a cut-back, as he would have had space to shoot. Later in the second half he made a clever dart towards the near post, timing his leap well, and was on course to meet the ball before it was deflected.
Arsenal have been renowned for their possession game, but with the departure of Fabregas, and Samir Nasri, moved to a slightly more direct style of play, which might well suit Dzagoev.
Another intelligent run was made by the 5 foot 10 wide man through the centre, with Kerzhakov battling out wide. Russia had the ball in the centre, and he scurried into the space as the pass was released, on the same wave-length as his team-mate. The ball was a little too heavy for him to make use of, but he chased the lost cause and managed to knock it out for a Poland throw in, giving his side a territorial advantage.
This spatial awareness was continually demonstrated by Dzagoev in the second half especially. As the game became more open, he had more room to drop into, and he showed an excellent appreciation of space, leaving his marker behind consistently in search of the ball. On one occasion, not only did he do well to find space and release the ball having received it, he showed the vision to continue his run and get it back in a swift one-two, suddenly upping the pace for Russia.
That’s one thing Arsenal, apparently potential suitors, as mentioned earlier, have suffered – not having somebody to change the tempo of a game, in the absence of Cesc Fabregas. Dzagoev demonstrated this ability in glimpses against Poland, although Arsene Wenger will continue to observe his performances if he is at all interested.
Russia’s direct style certainly suits Dzagoev, as he gets a lot of opportunities on the ball in the final third, out wide and in the centre, and he uses the ball well, in addition to not having too many players in front of him to beat. Arsenal have been renowned for their possession game, but with the departure of Fabregas, and Samir Nasri, moved to a slightly more direct style of play, which might well suit Dzagoev.
The Gunners have missed the creativity both centrally and out wide in the absences of their two previous playmakers, and despite impressive performances from Tomas Rosicky still lacked something going forward in those positions. Arsenal have a lot of direct wingers now – Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Lukas Podolski are all in this mould, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Wenger moved for a more skilful player to play out wide – one who looks to come inside and dictate the play, providing the killer balls instead of getting on the end of them.
Dzagoev certainly demonstrated a liking for killer passes against Poland, and a couple were very close to coming off, if it hadn’t been for laudable defending from the Poles at the back. He showed great composure on the ball – calmness when under pressure from opponents, and a good first touch. With Arsenal possibly on the market for a creative option out wide who can also play as a central playmaker – moves for Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla were apparently close last summer – it might be plausible that Wenger looks to Dzagoev.
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