After extensively watching Wilfried Zaha ply his trade for CrystalPalace this year, I must say that I’m a big fan.
Zaha has great balance, pace, ball control and the goal scoring instincts needed from a forward. He has a very unique running style that involves a wide stance, which is very deceptive and provides a great center of balance when running with the ball. There are so many tricks at his disposal that he seems to create new feints, step-overs and turns with each passing game. More importantly, from an Arsenal standpoint, he offers a more direct footballing style. Despite over dribbling at times, Zaha relentlessly takes on opposing defenders with the desire to always cut inside, opposed to staying out wide, a la Gervinho.
First, I would like to take you back to a game he played vs. Manchester United last year in the Capital One Cup. It was evident in this game that Zaha would have the talent to succeed at the highest level; however, I questioned his defensive work rate and his decision to not use his teammates more often, leading to a few errant passes and touches that left him with nowhere to go.
His trickery did lead to many Utd fouls though. Still, I saw an extraordinary talent that only needed to refine his game before teams at the next level would start taking notice of him. Fast forward a year later and he has assumed a lot more defensive responsibility than prior seasons and has become even more creative when taking defenders on. He’s noticeably stronger and is using his strength effectively to shield the ball from opposing players. He has shown true dedication to evolve his game and has become a well-rounded footballer.
The typical question that clouds such a big talent is whether he has the prima donna attitude that comes along with the talent. Zaha blends his confidence, boldly stating only Messi and Ronaldo are better than him, with humility; he credits his success to the faith put into him at Crystal Palace and those in the squad around him, in particular Yannick Bolasie, his winger across the pitch.
If Zaha were to make the jump to the Premier League, there are a few concerns that I would raise. As previously mentioned, Zaha over dribbles and could still use his teammates more. Often, his fullback makes darting runs down the flank, only to pass it to Zaha who does too many step overs/dribbles to no avail. Fortunately, Zaha has the ability to make you forget a mistake very quickly by taking on three defenders and creating a scoring chance that only exceptional talents could produce. Arsenal football is all about passing and moving into space (or it is intended to be that way) and Zaha would need to adjust his game to truly make an impact and break into the starting eleven.
Another concern is delivery. Arsenal is in desperate need of a winger who can create space for those in the center of the pitch, provide crosses in the air and passes on the ground from out wide to our forwards. Zaha’s excellent at creating space for others and has produced some dangerous in-swinging balls, but I have not seen consistent top-notch delivery from him yet. However, this could be related to the lack of top-end talent surrounding him rather than a criticism of his ability. Next, I question how Zaha’s game will translate to the top flight. He’s used to dribbling around Championship defenders but EPL defenders are more adept at taking away space and knocking you off the ball.
At this point, I’m not convinced of two things regarding these rumours:
1) Arsene Wenger would break his previous record transfer fee to acquire an unproven entity. Zaha represents the typical Wenger signing; a young talent with loads of potential. However, Wenger currently has Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry trying to break into the first team and both are being played at the same wing positions with arguably just as much potential. Arsenal’s rumoured offer to CP is in the range of £7-9 million with add-ons, which is nowhere near CP’s valuation of £20 million. Typically, the asking price of young, English talent is inflated, so this should come as no surprise.
2) Crystal Palace will actually let Zaha leave. Holloway and CP really have no reason to sell their best player in January. A bid for Zaha in June would likely garner just as much in a transfer fee, if not more. Attaining promotion is more important for the club than whatever sum they’ll eventually get from selling Zaha.
With that said, there are some positives working in Arsenal’s favour. Zaha is an admirer of Arsenal football and the Gunners have always been his boyhood club. There’s also the matter of him being an England international now, where Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gibbs, Jenkinson and Walcott can convince him that Arsenal is where his future lies. I believe the only remote possibility Arsenal has of landing Zaha in January, is if the player himself requests a move to the club.
It’s impossible to predict how quickly a player from a lower division will adapt to the rigours of the Premier League, but I feel that Zaha is a special talent similar to that of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. After 19 games in the Championship this season, Zaha has roughly managed to score a goal every 5 games, assist every 6 games, generate 2 shots with one on goal per game and is fouled almost 3 times each game. Not exactly the most overwhelming stats, but one must bear in mind that he already has 102 appearances in the Championship to his name at the tender age of 20.
The ability he’s shown in beating defenders is reminiscent of the greats (think of the flair of both Ronaldos).
In fact, I believe Zaha to be a hybrid between all three of Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho. He has the goal scoring instincts of Theo, the combination of pace, flair and ability to take on defenders in tight spaces like Gervinho and AOC (if not more), the directness of AOC and the willingness to play out wide like Gervinho. Zaha could be that special ‘top, top’ player that would be worthy of Wenger’s pursuit. All that remains is being tested at the highest level and seeing if he can realize his vast potential. The latest news round-ups have Arsenal as the favourites to land him in January, but it will take an exceptional offer to pry Zaha away from Palace.
What do you Gooners think about Zaha as a player? Is he the solution for our lack of delivery and directness from out wide? Would that amount of money be better spent elsewhere?
Written by: The Gooner