Who is Mykola Matviyenko and Why Are Arsenal Interested in This Defender? – Scout report
It’s common knowledge that Arsenal’s current crop of centre-backs needs a lot of work. With their best players either injured or on loan, the available choices leave a lot to be desired. That is why there is hope that this January, they will do something to fill the gap and hopefully upgrade the position.
Early this week, Arsenal were linked (primarily from a players’ agent) to Shaktar Donetsk’s 23-year old centre-back Mykola Matviyenko. Matviyenko is a virtual unknown to many but he has drawn interest from Mikel Arteta’s mentor and former employer Pep Guardiola.
Passing Range from Deep
One of the things that immediately stands out when watching Matviyenko is his passing range from deep. Playing primarily on the left side of a back four, the 23-year old is a catalyst in developing Shaktar’s attacks.
In a lot of their play, the Ukrainian side likes to use the width of the field and likes long diagonal balls from the back to break stingy setups down. Unfortunately, there is little data to use to highlight this ability. However, in this season’s Champions League group stages, Matviyenko had an average of 7.32 unpressured long balls (per 90) and 6.53 pressured long balls (per 90). Combined with an overall pass success rate of 89%, the long diagonal is something the young centre-back excels at.
It’s not hard to understand why from a passing sense Mikel Arteta would be interested in a player with this kind of passing range. Similar to Pep, when playing against teams utilising a mid- to low-block, Arteta likes to use the long diagonal ball (usually from Luiz) to stretch the field. Against, Sheffield United it was one of the consistent attacking moves from the Gunners.
Speed and Recovery Runs
When looking Matviyenko play, one thing stands out defensively – he is a good reader of the play but sometimes his timing lets him down, leaving him behind the attacker. In a normal circumstance this would be viewed as a negative attribute but Matviyenko often makes up for these mistakes with excellent speed in his recovery runs.
In the example below, a ball is played to Raheem Sterling and Matviyenko is caught just behind him. Those familiar with watching Sterling on a regular basis knows he doesn’t need to be given a head start to get on goal but this is what he is given by the young defender.
Matviyenko though isn’t flustered and he doesn’t give up, he uses his speed to recover into an angle to better play Sterling and perfectly anticipates Sterling’s cut inside. Matviyenko then is in prime position to pressure Sterling and when the City forward takes a bad touch Matviyenko is in the perfect position to win the ball and break up the attacking move.
Excellent Body Position Defensively
One of the biggest issues with Arsenal’s defenders has been their overall poor foundational skills – like body positioning, especially in 1v1 situations. Too many of the players that play back n the centre-back roll are either caught flat, too far away, off the wrong shoulder and a myriad of basic defending skills often lead them to getting beat, especially within their own defensive third.
Immediately with Matviyenko one of the things you notice is how technically sound he is. He puts himself into the right position to make a play more times than nought. When presented with a defending situation with an attacker he clearly understands when he should either decide to intercept, pressure the attacker, provide cover to the defender pressuring the ball or when to delay the attacker and allow for additional support behind him.
One of the other things that stand out as you watch this young man is that he is disciplined and responsible. He is outstanding in 1v1 situations. He doesn’t overplay the attacker and immediately closes down space and gets touch-tight with the right body shape and position to goal.
He’s very agile and with his quick feet seldom gets turned around (in the videos we analysed for this report.) All his positive attributes combined make him a very hard defender to beat.
Immediately in assessing Matviyenko one thing stands out to you – he’s only 5’11” and he isn’t the most physically imposing presence on the field. Of course, he makes up for that in other areas but in the more physical Premier League, having a more imposing partner would be a must.
Additionally, at only 5’11” he isn’t very effective in the air. His aerial duel winning percentage in the Champions League group stages sits at 64%, winning on average 1.43 aerial duels per 90.
Early we reviewed his recovery speed, which is important for this player. Why? Because one of his weaknesses is that while aggressive and usually good at reading play, he does tend to over play a ball which sometimes puts him out of position. If not for his recovery runs, he’d be at fault for some goals.
Fit at the Arsenal
With Arsenal’s centre-backs giving Arsenal coaches and fans fits at least three or four times in each half, it’s only appropriate that Arsenal look to bolster their stable of centre-backs. With Calum Chambers out until at least the late fall – early winter, having a replacement now is imperative.
It’s widely assumed that Mustafi will definitely be gone this summer and Sokratis could also go. Additionally, Luiz isn’t getting any younger and he’s not the most stable centre-back to have anyway.
That would mean heading into next season, William Saliba would come in and likely play on the right (but he’s only 18 and will need time) and Holding could feature with Luiz rotating in. If you add Matviyenko, that gives you a solid young centre-back crop. When Chambers is back your four primary rotating CBs could be Saliba and Matviyenko, Chambers and Holding. It’s a corps of central defends that is strong and likely competitive enough to push each other.
Central defence has long been Arsenal’s Achilles heel. They began to rectify that with the signing of William Saliba. However, Saliba is on loan until next season and he’s still only 18. With poor performances still ongoing and injuries to players, addressing this situation now seems to push a player like Mykola Matviyenko to the front of the line.
He’s as solid a prospect as we’ve seen, with traits very similar to Laurent Koscielny. He’s quick and positionally sound. He reads and scans play very well, though can be overly aggressive at times which may put him out of position.
In 1v1 situations, he plays the attacker exactly as you want, focusing on the delaying of play and denying of space first. He only looks to break up the play when the attacker makes the mistake that allows Matviyenko to win the ball.
Attacking wise, for a team that is increasingly looking for the occasional direct, diagonal ball over the top to break a well-organised team, he can make those passes with ease.
Like all players, he has a few weaknesses and the only one that can’t be fixed with coaching is his 5’11” size.
Arsenal are rumored to be offering around £4m now for a loan deal with an option of £23m purchase this summer. The deal would be in line with what we’ve paid for other defenders, namely Mustafi, but would represent an upgrade on the position in both ability and age.
With all that in mind, it would be a deal and a player Arsenal should make.