Jakub Kiwior's left-side passing bias at right center-back for Arsenal
May 03, 2023
May 3, 2023 — Rob Holding was benched, and Jakub Kiwior came into Arsenal’s lineup to face Chelsea yesterday at right center-back. The problem is that Kiwior and Gabriel are both left-footed.
Jakub Kiwior is a talented 23-year old who is athletic and looks very comfortable on the ball. At 182cm, he’s not the tallest, and he doesn’t look the strongest. He looks like he could be easily bullied by most forwards, which would make him a liability in aerial duels, especially when the ball is kicked long from the opponent’s end with his back to goal, and maybe even on corners as well. His heading doesn’t look strong.
His positioning when defending in settled play is excellent, and his timing to block or tackle is good. He’s very mobile and built more like a full-back or outside center-back than a central center-back. He will be a good backup to Oleksandr Zinchenko at inverted left-back or Gabriel at left center-back, but I think they will need more cover at the right center-back position.
Kiwior favors passing to his left, which is a big exploitable issue. Of the 57 attempted passes, very few were passed to the right.
I’m not sure why Arsenal favored playing Kiwior at right center-back and Gabriel at left center-back and not the other way around. Gabriel is a much better passer and is more comfortable using both feet.
Kiwior’s first touch is to his left, everything is left. Touch with the right foot, push left, pass with the left-foot, and repeat. Like ping-pong back and forth between Gabriel and Kiwior in the build-up.
Arsenal’s buildup becomes predictable, and like in the match yesterday, they will rely more on the defensive-midfielders dropping to pull the strings and help to get Bukayo Saka involved on the right-wing, whether that be Thomas Partey or Jorginho.
Teams can take advantage of Kiwior’s left-side bias by overloading the right-wing to crowd Arsenal’s left-side. The forwards on the left-wing can put pressure higher up the pitch because they know the pass to Ben White or Bukayo Saka won’t come from Kiwior.
With the forwards on the left-wing pushed forward, Sterling in this example, they can look to run behind Kiwior once Chelsea win back the ball. They will be better positioned to take advantage of the space Ben White leaves behind.
Using two left-footed center-backs also adds a weakness when defending in transition if the opposing team attacks Arsenal’s right side.
When you have a right-footed center-back on the right, they clear the ball with their preferred foot when facing the ball. The same goes for the left on the left-side. That’s good.
Like in Figure 3.1 and 3.2, Kiwior and Gabriel will need to use their weak right foot to play or clear the ball when the ball is on their right. That’s bad. You’d want the leading center-back ball-side to be proficient enough to be able to calmly clear the ball if it were to be played on the ground.
These weaknesses play into the strengths of their next two opponents:
- Newcastle, who like to overload the right-wing and isolate Alexander Isak on the left-wing.
- Brighton, who like building up and than attacking the left-wing through Kaoru Mitoma.
Jakub Kiwior will need coaching on how to pivot and pass to the right, like Gabriel does so well, if he is going to play at right center-back, because the competition in these final four games will test him.