Oleksandr Zinchenko: The One That Got Away For Pep Guardiola And Manchester City

While he shines at the Emirates, City are in need of a left-back
08:00, 27 Jan 2023

As Eddie Nketiah tapped home the winner against Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday, Oleksandr Zinchenko turned to the enraptured crowd and let out an almighty roar. Fist clenched, he punched the air as his side secured a win that restored their five-point lead at the top of the Premier League. 

It was a huge result in the title race, one that looks to be a two-horse race at this stage after Arsenal overcame fellow contenders Manchester United. Against Erik ten Hag’s in-form outfit, Zinchenko was utterly magnificent. 

His role as an invented left-back, who joined Thomas Partey in central midfield and allowed Granit Xhaka to force Scott McTominay backwards, was absolutely crucial in the win. Even more impressive than his tactical positioning was his ability on the ball. He consistently took the ball into congested areas and kept hold of it before releasing it to a teammate. 


The Ukrainian’s work on and off the ball was pivotal not only in the win, but in the entire title race so far. Zinchenko has revolutionised Arsenal’s attacking contribution from defence and as Ben White offers a defensive option at right back, he is crucial to their work going forward. 

It’s remarkable looking at his performances this season that Mikel Arteta was able to poach him from Manchester City. As the two teams meet for the first time this season in the FA Cup on Friday night, Arteta will go toe-to-toe with the man whom he served his apprenticeship under: Pep Guardiola. 

For all of Guardiola’s strengths and tactical nous, he must regret the decision to let Zinchenko join Arsenal this summer for £32m. Gabriel Jesus was thought to be the big signing for the Gunners, but the Ukrainian’s influence is growing as the season progresses and with the Brazilian forward out injured, he has become their signing of the season. 

His presence is also being hugely missed at the Etihad. Guardiola could not have foreseen star man Joao Cancelo’s horrendous drop off in form that has seen him left on the bench for the last two league matches. The Portuguese full-back hasn’t hit the heights of last season and City’s back four has been unsettled and inconsistent. 

Instead of Cancelo, Guardiola has recently tried Nathan Ake and Aymeric Laporte in the left-back position. With Rico Lewis coming into the team on the right, both of those have failed to offer the same composure on the ball or attacking output that Guardiola desires. Cancelo’s perfect replacement, a like-for-life swap on the ball, is Zinchenko. And now part of an Arsenal team that have been by far the best in the league as we pass the halfway point.

He’s also, at the age of 26, become a hugely influential figure in big moments. It’s quite the turnaround from Gary Neville’s pre-season comments when he predicted Arsenal to finish outside the top four. 

“On the pitch in difficult moments who in that team (is going to get Arsenal over the line)? I have watched Zinchenko. He’s not a leader. I love him to bits. He’s not a leader on the pitch. Is he going to in the difficult moments of the season be able to pull it all together? He might do.”

He’s certainly proved the pundit wrong as his influence on the pitch becomes increasingly obvious. As City chop and change their back four looking for the perfect solution, Arteta has found his ideal balance. Zinchenko has helped transform Arsenal, is now a key cog from left-back and Guardiola must be ruing the decision to let him go. It could cost him the Premier League title.

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