Mikel Arteta calls the first half of the season ‘extraordinary’
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Erling Haaland is destined to go down as the signing of the summer, having scored 25 goals – more than the total that won last year’s Golden Boot – in just 19 Premier League games for Manchester City this season. He is on to break the record and score 40 plus. But Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal may have been an even more impactful transfer than the Norwegian’s move to the Etihad come the end of May.
Zinchenko was sensational yet again against Manchester United last Sunday, popping up all over the pitch as an auxiliary midfielder despite starting at left-back, to help Arsenal maintain relentless late pressure and secure a 3-2 win in stoppage time. And the Gunners actually have United partly to thank for the success of Zinchenko in north London.
Arsenal were initially keen on signing Lisandro Martinez to bolster their back-line last summer. The Ajax defender of course went on to join United for up to £56million after their Premier League rivals had several bids rejected by the Dutch club.
Mikel Arteta viewed the Argentine as a versatile option to add to his defence. Martinez has the ability to play comfortably at left-back and at centre-back. But recruiting the combative defender was no longer a possibility after United secured an agreement, so Arsenal moved on to Zinchenko instead.
And a £32m deal with City was agreed by mid-July – a move that has proven an absolute masterstroke. Though he has missed several Premier League matches due to injury, Zinchenko has been a massive player for Arteta’s title-challenging charges – in the dressing room as much as on the pitch.
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United legend Paul Scholes said of the influential Ukrainian leader, who can also play in midfield, this week: “He is playing it [the left-back role] fantastically well and is a big asset to Arsenal. I am a bit surprised Man City sold him with the big influence he has had.
“And Man City have struggled a little at left-back, which is even more surprising. Normally they don’t have that big of an influence, do they?! [Left-backs]. But he has had a massive influence, not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well.”
Arteta has labelled Zinchenko’s ability to move forward into midfield spaces as “an extra weapon” which helps Arsenal be “more unpredictable”. And his role was huge in the crucial late win over United – with Ian Wright telling the player afterwards: “Alex I’m so glad you are at our club.”
In addition to the quality he offers on the pitch, his mentality off it – and his experience of what it takes to win and to do so consistently at City – has helped turn Arsenal into a team who believe they can win the league. That much is obvious with how they perform, especially in their recent wins away at Tottenham and at home to United.
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Zinchenko is already a leading figure in the Arsenal team, and has endeared himself to fans with his passion, productivity and overall quality. The Red Devils themselves won’t be too disappointed with how it all worked out, given Martinez has played a gigantic role in their own turnaround under Erik ten Hag.
But inadvertently, the South American moving to Old Trafford led to Arteta buying Zinchenko. And you suspect the Spaniard would not swap the pair now under any condition. Martinez may have had a big impact at the Emirates too – but the Ukrainian was absolutely perfect for Arteta’s team and is proving it each week.
If Arsenal can maintain this level, and Zinchenko will be crucial if they are to do that, he might join N’Golo Kante as one of just two outfield players ever to win back-to-back Premier League titles with different clubs.
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