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Wednesday September 4 2019
Mkhitaryan and the Armenian Job

With Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining Roma and Italy facing Armenia, Vilizar Yakimov analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the ex-Arsenal midfielder and his national team.

When Henrihk Mkhitaryan landed in Rome to complete his deadline day loan move from Arsenal, the entire idea felt like one cobbled together at the last minute in a sense of desperation.

The Armenian midfielder’s arrival in the Eternal City should add some experience and depth to the young Roma midfield that lost Daniele De Rossi this summer. However, Mkhitaryan is obviously a completely different player, so it’s worth taking a look at how the ex-Arsenal man can help their cause.

Being 30 years of age, Mkhitaryan is obviously a seasoned player with significant European experience. The fact that the Armenian international broke into the European stage at Shakhtar Donetsk should also mean that he and Paulo Fonseca should be able to establish a strong understanding.

At least in theory, the Shakhtar bond between Mkhitaryan and Fonseca should turn the midfielder into one of the pillars of this new-look Roma side and this is something the Giallorossi undoubtedly need. However, the Arsenal loanee is not the most consistent, and considering that Roma are stacked with players with similar characteristics at his position, it could create problems.

The Giallorossi can count on Javier Pastore, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolò Zaniolo and even Bryan Cristante in a more advanced role in midfield and that’s exactly where Mkhitaryan fits best. The captain of the Armenia national team has often featured as right winger for Arsenal, but his inability to track back and limited pace showed that he cannot be efficient there week in, week out.

Cengiz Under is obviously the preferred choice at right wing, which means that Mkhitaryan could be tried on the left, where Justin Kluivert is struggling to make an impression. However, Mkhitaryan’s versatility is something that Fonseca should not play with too much, as the attacking midfielder tends to lose confidence in a Higuain-esque manner and this often results in some anonymous performances. So where should Fonseca play Mkhitaryan?

It should be noted that the Armenian could be a valuable option from the bench, as Roma would need to show some depth if they want to have a credible shot at top four finish domestically, as well as a respectable Europa League campaign. However, in order to find Mkhitaryan’s best position, Fonseca might want to take a closer look at the Armenia national team.

The former Borussia Dortmund playmaker features in a deeper position for his home country and is often involved in the build-up play, which is normal considering that Mkhitaryan is undoubtedly Armenia’s best player.

The Armenians often play a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation, which seem to be the favourite set-ups of their Coach Armen Gyulbudaghyants. Playing Mkhitaryan further back gives him the opportunity to play with the ball more often and his role is key for Armenia’s transition, as the 30-year-old is often able to find another teammate in a more advanced position.

Armenia are very dangerous on the break, as although not so physical, almost all their forwards are very pacey and often exchange positions, which confuses the opposition. Again Mkhitaryan’s role in his side’s counter attacking set-up is key, as he is often the one starting the whole move from deep with a sharp pass or dribble.

The Armenians are extremely aggressive when they are playing at home, where Mkhitaryan is often able to spend more time in the opposition half than usual, which increases the danger. Considering that Thursday’s game with the Azzurri will be held at the Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Roberto Mancini’s men should probably pay special attention to the new Roma acquisition.

Armenia currently sit in third place in Group J with six points from four games, but it’s worth saying that Gyulbudaghyants’s team won their last two outings against Liechtenstein and Greece. The home defeat that the Armenians suffered against Finland by 2-0 in March showcased some of the team’s biggest weaknesses, as despite their aggression the hosts were unable to break the well-organized Scandinavian defence and logically struggled to cope with them physically.

Mancini’s Italy is obviously less physical than Finland and considering that the Azzurri will aim to dictate the tempo and attack, Armenia’s main weapons will be their counter attacks.

Aras Özbiliz, Gevorg Ghazaryan and Edgar Babayan will be the main targets for Mkhitaryan’s passes, and considering their pace it would be important for Italy not to open themselves too much when attacking. Putting their captain aside, the Armenians don’t have enough creativity to cause trouble for Italy, if the Azzurri backline are in their places.

Armenia have also struggled massively in the full back areas, so Italy’s wingers should be able to exploit that weakness. Both Federicos - Chiesa and Bernardeschi – are expected to start out wide in Mancini’s 4-3-3 formation, so if Italy manage to weather off the storm that is expected during the first minutes of the game, the Armenians should have plenty of problems in that area.

Ironically, Italian defenders need to start thinking of Mkhitaryan even before his Roma debut in Serie A. Although the role of the Armenian captain at the Capital club might not be clear yet, there is little doubt that Mkhitaryan will be the main threat for the Azzurri.

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