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No one is laughing at Zinchenko now! Arsenal's inverted left-back playing a pivotal role in title charge

8:00 PM MYT 25/01/2023
Oleksandr Zinchenko Arsenal 2022-23 HIC 16:9
Some of his own team-mates scoffed when he said the Gunners could win the league but the Ukrainian has been proven right about their potential.

Oleksandr Zinchenko knows exactly what it takes to win the Premier League.

So, when he arrived at Arsenal from Manchester City last summer, it didn’t take him long to realise that Mikel Arteta had put together a squad that could mount a serious title charge.

“I realised we have everything to achieve big things,” he said. “I started to speak in the dressing room, ‘Guys, forget top three or whatever, we need to think about the title.'

“Some of them were laughing, but no one is laughing now.”

Zinchenko has been a revelation at Arsenal.

While the immediate impact of Gabriel Jesus may have captured most of the headlines earlier in the season, Zinchenko’s influence is now beginning to become just as clear.

He was magnificent in the north London derby win at Spurs and then put in an equally impressive, if not better, display in the dramatic success against Manchester United on Sunday.

Goalscorers Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah understandably received most of the post-match plaudits during the television coverage, but it was Zinchenko whom Arsenal fans voted as their man of the match.

And given the level of his all-round excellence, few could argue with that result.

Zinchenko was exceptional and constantly drove the team on. 

When the winning goal did come in the last minute, it was no surprise that it came from the Ukrainian bombing down the left and crossing the ball in.

“The football from Arsenal through midfield and the movement and the role of Zinchenko was absolutely world class,” Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said on Monday Night Football.

That is the level that the four-time Premier League winneris now operating at.

In the two games against Spurs and United, Zinchenko totalled 178 touches – more than any other Arsenal player.

He also made the most passes (136), won the most duels (14) and the most aerial duels (6).

Of all the Arsenal players on show, only Martin Odegaard (12) played more passes than his 10 into the opposition box and only William Saliba (46) made more than his 45 forward passes.

Zinchenko also finished the two games with a 100 percent take-on success rate and did not let a single player successfully dribble past him.

Not bad for a left-back!

But the thing is with Zinchenko, he is a left-back in name only.

Arsenal may set up in a fairly straight forward 4-3-3 formation, but as soon as they have possession and start to move forward, Zinchenko moves inside to create an overload in midfield.

Gabriel Martinelli hugs the touchline and that allows the 26-year-old to play the inverted full-back role that Arteta demands of him, with Gabriel Magalhaes drifting across to cover the space he has vacated defensively.

“What he does is he brings in an extra man there,” Arsenal legend Ian Wright said while praising Zinchenko following Sunday’s 3-2 win.

“He plays on the left side but before you know it, he is the centre forward. He brings so much from the left-back spot and the midfield.

“He’s our best passer into the final third. He can’t really be picked out because people don’t know how to pick him out.”

Arteta knew all about Zinchenko when he decided to bring him in from City in the summer.

Having worked with him during his time as Pep Guardiola’s assistant, he was well aware of what he was getting.

He was, of course, signing a four-time Premier League winner, but he was also signing a leader – someone who could come in and make an immediate impression on the pitch, but off it as well.
Zinchenko is relishing that responsibility and is constantly telling his team-mates exactly what it will take if they are to continue to set the pace ahead of City.

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“It’s about desire,” he said. “In modern football now, with two top teams playing each other, everyone is fast, everyone has technique, everyone knows what they need to do on the pitch.

“But it’s something a bit more. It’s to be in front of your opponent, it’s about reading the game quicker than your opponent. That’s the key.”

Zinchenko is everything to Arsenal right now.

On the pitch, he’s a crucial cog in Arteta’s winning machine and, off it, he’s a leader who is hell bent on using his experience to haul Arsenal to their first title in 19 years.

Some of his team-mates may have scoffed at him when he dared to suggest adding another Premier League winners' medal to his collection a few months ago.

But, in his own words: "No one is laughing now."