If Oleksandr Zinchenko hadn’t already made a strong case for the rumours linking the Ukrainian with a move to North London from Manchester City this summer, his performance on Wednesday night arguably put any reticence to bed.
The 25-year-old left-back promised to provide Ukrainian people with “incredible emotion” in the lead-up to his nation’s World Cup play-off semi-final at Hampden Park against Scotland, and Zinchenko and co. did not disappoint as they produced a dominating 3-1 victory to bag a spot in Sunday’s final against Wales.
Ahead of Sunday’s clash, Tottenham Hotspur and Wales defender Ben Davies praised the Ukrainian squad for their strength in the face of such acute adversity but specifically praised Zinchenko for his incredible fortitude on and off the pitch during his country’s ongoing horrors.
“Football can kind of seem a bit insignificant in these times and moments, and it is very difficult to try and rationalise that a game is so important when you’ve got such major events going on in the world,” the Welshman said.
“The way that Zinchenko has handled it all in the media is a real credit to him, and he has shown what a stand-out man he is.”
Stand-out is apt. On Wednesday, Zinchenko produced the joint-most key passes for Ukraine with three and ranked second for passes overall (68) with an 86.8 per cent accuracy, according to Whoscored.com.
The performance offered something of a potential blueprint for Arsenal fans catching a glimpse of the Arsenal target. Zinchenko offered up his usual blend of suave, industry and incision, but in a Premier League champions, Manchester City team overrun with jaw-dropping talent, overlooking Zinchenko’s outstanding qualities can swiftly become an easy task.
On Wednesday, however, any such overlooking was nigh impossible, and the 25-year-old’s nearly unplayable performance in his natural midfield berth served as a succinct highlight reel as to why Arsenal’s hierarchy have identified the player as a top target this summer.
Zinchenko’s aplomb in the centre of the park was on full display as he reduced Scotland’s midfield to immobile cones with his incisive passing and intrepid drives forward. That a Zinchenko drive and pass ultimately finished off a flat Scotland side as the final whistle blew was the only fitting end to what cut a convincing argument for the young star’s best performance to date, full stop.
Mikel Arteta has routinely emphasised his desire for greater strength in depth, particularly after last season’s late injury woes subverted Arsenal’s fourth-place finish. Midfield remains a key area Arteta is keen on bolstering, and Zinchenko’s versatility presents a wildly exciting prospect for Arsenal’s Champions League hopes next season.
But Zinchenko’s display of maturity in midfield against a supercharged emotional backdrop promises to inject Arteta’s current midfield with a composure that often felt for want on big occasions last season.
The World Cup play-off final is set for Sunday at 5pm at Cardiff City Stadium.