The shots that the Bosnian international has set up since late November have been worth 2.35 expected goals. When he was left out of the side against Southampton through injury, the Gunners lost 3-2 and their 22-match unbeaten run came to an end.
His lofty position in the creativity charts comes less through frequency than creating opportunities of extreme quality.
Kolašinac’s style has always been more attacking than defensive, but this recent stretch has made the difference between him and the alternatives at Arsenal very clear.
The 25-year-old’s creative output has eclipsed Nacho Monreal’s in almost half the time.
Monreal might be slightly disadvantaged by playing in a different system — Kolašinac in the side has coincided with a three-man defence, pushing the Bosnian up to left wing-back — but it’s not all down to that.
He played 76 minutes in a four-man backline against Wolves at the start of his latest run in the team and was a constant source of width for the Gunners.
It’s the left-back’s willingness and choice of runs that gives him so much success. For example, here against Huddersfield the ball is with Matteo Guendouzi as Arsenal reset their attack.
Kolašinac is already backpedalling into space when the teenage Frenchman plays the ball into Alex Iwobi, who also attracts Huddersfield’s right-back.
Kolašinac (No.31) is now in space, facing goal, and literally bouncing, ready to sprint onto a pass.
His understanding with his Arsenal team-mates is strong as well; it would be hard to time the number of runs and key passes that he makes if it wasn’t.
The pass comes, and the left-back is able to get into a dangerous position in the box.
Kolašinac’s cross doesn’t quite turn into a shot for Arsenal, but it’s an example of how the Bosnian international’s skills make him a threat going forward.
The worry, of course, is how Kolašinac fares going the other way. His mistake against Manchester United for their equaliser sticks in the mind and, for a full-back, he isn’t particularly active defensively.
His 1.93 tackles per 90 minutes is midrange in the league, and his 0.96 interceptions per 90 is barely anything for his positional group. High activity doesn’t equal a good defender necessarily, but there is a reason why he’s generally played as a wing-back rather than a full-back.
He’s fortunate that Lucas Torreira is the central midfielder on his side to mop up around him, because his defensive spidey senses are competent at best.
In the below example, Huddersfield have just won the ball high up the pitch on the right flank; the opposite side to Kolašinac. He’d been moving wide to his ‘in-possession’ position when the turnover happened and he’s just turned around to the play.
A Huddersfield player is racing forward, but Kolašinac doesn’t look like he’s prepared to match the run.
The pass gets played by Aaron Mooy for the full-back to run onto and, sure enough, Kolašinac isn’t in a position to mark him.
He’s fortunate there wasn’t a little more pace on the pass because, as it happened, Arsenal’s central defenders were able to move across to cover.
Full-backs who are good going forward but aren’t the strongest defensively are nothing new; it’s the path well-trodden by Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso, for example.
And given that the full-backs are teams’ primary source of width nowadays, it makes sense too — it’s much more important to be able to stretch your opponents than to cover the full width of your defensive third.
Kolašinac has proved his worth for Arsenal; it’s time for him to take the mantle of starting left-back from Monreal for good.