Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Oleksandr Zinchenko is making his former club pay for their generosity

This may be the most telling error Manchester city made in recent seasons. The moments that cost them a Premier League treble – a sign as great as any in this country – may have come before kicking the ball when they first sold Gabriel Jesus and then Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal. Even the Gunners’ own sales to Ashley Cole, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie can’t compare to an act of self-sabotage; Arsenal did not form rivals with these sales nor did they have much of a title challenge to handicap. They had a playground for financing. Pep Guardiola had no such qualms in sending two of his squad players to North London. It was the move the players wanted and the Premier League champions wanted to do right.

City did not see the appearance of Arsenal, who will face it first in the fourth round match of the FA Cup on Friday, and it is only a preparation work for the title match that may be its meeting on February 15. If they had, the whims of their players would have counted less. In their defense, some of his newer teammates didn’t either.

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“Honestly, when I just arrived, the quality I saw… obviously I knew the Arsenal team, I knew them all before, but on the pitch I still knew we had everything to achieve big things,” said Zinchenko. After Sunday’s 3-2 win Manchester United. “I started talking in the dressing room, saying, ‘Guys, forget the top three or whatever, we need to think about the title. Some were laughing, but no one is laughing now.

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This is not entirely the case. What other reaction could Arsenal fans have to renting a season out of their dreams straight but from jubilant laughter? There were those around the club who feared a hangover in the wake of the manner in which Arteta’s side allowed a shock finish to the top two squares of their grasp in the closing weeks of last season. Instead, Jesus and Zinchenko bring with them a shift in mentality even when they’re not playing.

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Arsenal might have handled quite adequately on the pitch without Jesus thanks to his impressive form Eddie Nketiah But their third captain still makes an impact in the dressing room.

“He was fantastic with the players, the staff and everyone around the club,” Arteta said in his pre-match press conference. “His energy and how positive he is towards the boys – he’s always giving them advice and he’s always there for them. It’s been amazing.”

The same applies to Zinchenko. He may not be an official part of Arteta’s trio – captain Martin OdegaardAnd Granit Xhaka and Jesus – but he might be. He has brought a strength of personality to Arsenal which is reflected in the rallies and pre-match warm-ups, where he will be one of the most vocal players around. For some, moving from perennial Champions League contenders to a club that hasn’t even played in Europe’s top flight since 2017 may not have been ideal, but the Ukraine captain relished the opportunity to build a contender. Gunner, a childhood sweetheart, has asked for pictures with “Mr. Arsenal” Tony Adams and feels like he’s found another family in north London.

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All of this would have very little if not transformative effect on the field. It is strange to think that Zinchenko was not Arsenal’s first choice when they sought to strengthen the left-back position last summer. They envisioned Lisandro Martínez playing more of a left-handed role before being discounted by Manchester United. What they get instead is a player whose tactile map is Arsene Wenger’s desire for football to become art. What is this if not some pointillist masterpiece?

take a look:

Oleksandr Zinchenko touch map of Premier League matches this season


It was a rare occasion this season that Arsenal would chase a match. When they do, Zinchenko comes out on top. Nobody averages more passes when Arsenal pull in and fall behind than the nominal left-back, who has more freedom to wonder from his nominal position in possession. Every attacking move seems to run through the 26-year-old, as the graph below indicates.

Arsenal’s passing net when they draw or trail in a Premier League match this season. Note the number of arrows leading towards Zinchenko in the left back position.


It would be hard to say City made a mistake in letting Zinchenko go. He made just 10 Premier League appearances for Guardiola’s side last season, and he wanted to move on and recoup £35m for them. But it may not be unreasonable to note that they miss him while Joao Cancelo struggles for form. Nathan Ake has earned huge praise from his manager for his intervention at left-back, but Guardiola tends to deal with that by admitting that the Dutchman is not a left-back. On the other side , Rico Lewis He performs ably in the role of tipper but it would certainly help if the veteran who won four titles was on hand to steady the ship.

For now, it appears that Guardiola only wants to pay tribute to both his former players and Arteta, his former assistant at the Etihad Stadium.

“Oulx and Gabriel were great with us,” he said ahead of Friday’s cup game. “I have incredible respect for them as a person and then as a footballer. Of course, we want to beat them. But with all the success they’ve had, and their families, well, I’m very happy. If it happens, it’s because the players and both clubs agreed to it.

“Many times Oleks could have left but he said, ‘No, no, I want to stay, I want to stay’, and he stayed. Gabriel, same thing. They’ve been here for many years and they needed a new challenge Arsenal wanted them and it happened in a natural way. So, if it’s going well for them, congratulations.”

It’s easy to say that now when all that’s at stake is a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup. One wonders if Guardiola would be all too happy with his former charges if they continue to play a crucial role in the Premier League clash that looms large on the horizon.


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