LONDON – Arsenal fullback Oleksandr Zinchenko said some of his teammates had laughed when he said at the start of the season that they could win the English Premier League title, but that the squad has now started to believe it is possible.
Ukraine international Zinchenko joined Arsenal from Manchester City ahead of the season, bringing title-winning pedigree, having won the league four times with the reigning champions.
Zinchenko has been crucial to Arsenal’s winning run with his calm presence at the back and flexibility in attack.
Former United and England midfielder Paul Scholes told Premier League Productions: “Is he a left-back or a central midfielder?’ I don’t know. Exactly (he is equally comfortable in both). He is playing fantastically well and is a big asset to Arsenal.
“I am a bit surprised Man City sold him... He has had a massive influence, not just on the pitch, but off the pitch as well.”
Sunday’s last-gasp 3-2 victory over Manchester United moved Arsenal five points clear of City at the top of the standings, with a game in hand.
Two goals by Eddie Nketiah and one from Bukayo Saka – both products of Arsenal’s academy – sealed the win. In-form Marcus Rashford, a United academy product, had opened the scoring for the Red Devils on 17 minutes, while Lisandro Martinez made it 2-2 just before the hour mark before Nketiah’s 90th-minute winner.
“When I had just arrived, the quality I saw... Obviously I knew the Arsenal team, I knew all of them before, but still I realised on the pitch we have everything to achieve big things,” Zinchenko told Premier League TV.
“I started to speak in the dressing room, saying: ‘Guys, forget top three or whatever, we need to think about the title.’ Some of them were laughing but no one is laughing now and all of us are dreaming.”
He added: “But still there’s a lot of games to play and now you can see (Manchester) United is back. City, as always, is there. Let’s see what is going to happen, but we need to move step by step.”
Arsenal have not won the league since their Invincibles won the title in 2003-04 under former manager Arsene Wenger.
A member of that side, Martin Keown, said he saw similarities with Wenger’s title-winners of old.
He said on the BBC: “Arsenal’s energy was just incredible and they were absolutely relentless... The home crowd played a huge part in that, the same way they did when they were driving us forward when we won titles under Arsene Wenger...
“They know what they are watching and, just like they used to watch us rock up and all think ‘right, let’s win this as quick as we can’ when I played under Wenger.
“They know now they have got another team that can beat anyone.”
However, his former England teammate Gary Neville still believes City will retain the title.
He told Sky Sports: “I don’t see (Arsenal) going on to win the league. I think City will go on to win the league. I think what they have got in them is a special run, Manchester City.
“I think at a point in the season, Arsenal will lose one or two matches and City will be right on their shoulders, and it will become very difficult for them.”
His former United captain Roy Keane agreed, saying on Sky Sports: “If it was putting money on it, I still think City but, seeing Arsenal today with the technical ability and the mentality, it will take a lot to stop them... I still do sway towards City after what they have done over the last few years and the strength in depth they have.”
But former England midfielder Jamie Redknapp suggested the Gunners’ title chances are helped by the fact that “something is not quite right with City”.
He told Sky Sports: “I think Arsenal have enough resources to win the league this year, they have a manager who knows what he is doing.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta’s side completed the first half of their campaign by reaching 50 points.
It is their best-ever start to a Premier League campaign and Arteta’s young side are growing in belief that they can stay the course.
No wonder the Spaniard said “it doesn’t get much better than this” as he evaluated a deserved victory over a United side who now find themselves 11 points in arrears.
“Emotional, a lot of passion, a lot of quality. It doesn’t get much better than that. After the derby (against Tottenham Hotspur), to come against this team and play the way we played. The second half especially, the performance was incredible,” he said.
“We were composed and determined at the same time. We managed the moments in the game. We never panicked. We always believed that we could win it. We showed the right composure in the box a lot of times but the ball didn’t go in. Thankfully at the end it did.”
His opposite number Erik ten Hag said his team must change their mentality to win trophies, bemoaning defensive errors at the Emirates.
“It was like a pack of cards with the goals we conceded,” said the Dutchman, pointing out that the first two started with corners.
“I’m annoyed and I also told the players, ‘if you want to win trophies, titles, we have to change our mentality’ because it’s not possible that you are in a top game and you’re making three such big mistakes where you concede goals, especially the last goal.” REUTERS, AFP