A profile of the Dinamo Moscow attacking midfielder, taken from Volume XI
Who is Arsen Zakharyan?
Note: This profile was first written in September 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.
Of Europe’s biggest academies, Dinamo Moscow is among those less commonly spoken of. Most notable for developing Lev Yashin in the 1950s, in the last decade Dinamo have produced the likes of Fedor Smolov, Aleksandr Kokorin and Roman Zobnin – all Russian internationals with World Cup experience. In recent years though, the production line has slowed down, and Dinamo had one of the oldest squads in Russia by average age prior to 2020.
But down in the Russian third tier, where Dinamo-2 play their football, a gem was being polished for the first team: Arsen Zakharyan, who was plucked by coach Sandro Schwarz last November and became Dinamo’s youngest debutant since Smolov, at 17 years and 5 months old.
Zakharyan had earned his wings playing in the Youth Football League, a new competition started in 2019 for Russia’s elite under-18 and under-17 sides to help youth development. He featured regularly and was named in the Team of the Season. A promotion to Dinamo-2 came shortly thereafter, and with it the chance to play in a professional league against senior players.
In the build-up to his RPL debut, Zakharyan played 13 times for the second side, scoring eight goals and notching five assists. He and team-mate Konstantin Tyukavin made their senior debuts together against Tambov. Both remained firm fixtures in the first-team squad, with Zakharyan becoming a regular starter by the resumption of the RPL in March 2021, and both ended the season with three goals and five assists apiece. Zakharyan, however, had been the revelation, with his abundance of talent obvious to anyone watching.
This form earned him a place in Russia’s squad for the Under-21 Euros, where his goal against Iceland made him the youngest scorer in the tournament’s history. He was then announced as a shock inclusion in the long-list for the senior squad at Euro 2020, but missed out thanks to illness.
Arsen Zakharyan's style of play
Naturally, Zakharyan is a talented attacker most comfortable as an eight or ten. He played deeper in youth team games, where he could pick up the ball and push his side forward. However, Zakharyan’s first senior games saw him deployed on right of an attacking midfield three. He is no winger and does not have barrels of natural pace, but his adaptability saw him settle in well in the wider role.
His ability to threaten with passing or dribbling make him a tough player to defend against, and even in a naturally wider role, his tendency to drift inside meant that this deployment was not a waste. One of his strongest characteristics is his driving runs, on and off the ball, coming from deeper spaces or to burst into the box.
He is perfectly capable of taking the ball and penetrating the spaces between defenders, committing them and drawing them in so that after beating them he has options. His goal at the Under-21 European Championship against Iceland is a really good example. He picked the ball up deep, played a pass in to Fedor Chalov, followed it to complete the one-two, then drove between three defenders into the box before scoring.
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Off the ball, Zakharyan’s spatial awareness is excellent. He finds space between the lines with ease and is constantly looking to do so to receive the ball. He is very mobile and full of running, even late in the game, able to pull off hard sprints and bursts of energy to run into space or execute counter attacks.
An assist he made against Krasnodar in March is a prime example of how he can be deployed from the right and still exhibit his best traits. He picks the ball up inside his own box and plays it to the right full-back, who carries up the field. Zakharyan follows on, and bursts through the defensive line on the underlap into the right side of the opposition box, drilling a cross first-time which is turned home by the striker. The move encapsulated Zakharyan, demonstrating his charging runs from deep and his vision to play a perfect cross first-time.
As a 17-year-old, there are of course some limitations and weaknesses to his game. Despite being given a deeper role at youth level and for Dinamo-2, Zakharyan is weak in the tackle – though not for want of trying.
He gets stuck in but wins less than half of all his challenges. He fares no better aerially, getting involved in very few aerial duels and winning less than 20 percent of them to boot, despite being fairly tall at 5′11″ and bearing an unusual physique for a 17-year-old wide player.
Decisive in Zakharyan’s breakout was the fact that his play was resulting in goal contributions. As a 17-year-old midfielder, he provided 0.29 goals from 2.5 shots per 90 minutes in 13 appearances, an impressive output given the circumstances. When combined with 0.47 assists from 2.2 shot assists per 90, he ranked as one of the most productive players in the entire Russian Premier League last season.
This creativity alone would statistically place him among the top ten for chance creation. Despite the relatively small sample size of matches to look at in his blossoming career, the eye test gives anyone watching the confidence to say that there is more than just stats at work – he has the high-level talent to back them up.
Forecasting Arsen Zakharyan's future
Zakharyan is still at the very start of his senior career with less than 20 league appearances to his name. However, the 2021/22 season promises to see him keep his starting berth and hopefully continue to be the spark that keeps Dinamo ticking over. In April, it was incredible to see Dinamo fall apart during a cup game against lower league opposition, in which only Zakharyan was rested.
That reliance on him to be their creative spark, their energy, has developed already, and he has put the intimidatingly large burden upon his young shoulders very well. Schwarz’s Dinamo are hoping to challenge for Europe next season – something half of the 16 clubs in the RPL could feasibly achieve. With only four slots open it will be tough, but it represents Zakharyan’s next step with Dinamo – to showcase himself on the European stage.
He is probably too young to even consider possible future transfers, particularly domestically – where the inter-Moscow sport-politico circle would probably tee him up to join either Zenit or Spartak. The imminent hope is that Valery Karpin will make Zakharyan one of the top-five youngest players of all time for his country. He could still bypass Alan Dzagoev for second if given his debut in September’s matches – not bad company to keep, that is for sure.
Arsen Zakharyan is a decisive attacking midfielder that poses a threat as a passer and dribbler, particularly from wider spaces. His excellent spatial awareness if a huge aspect of his exciting skillset too – he finds dangerous pockets of space in and around the box.
Arsen Zakharyan struggles to make an impact in defensive challenges, although he does try to do so. He struggles in tackles and aerial duels.