It’s no secret that on joining Arsenal, Oleksandr Zinchenko observed his new teammates and immediately parked talk of grabbing a Champions League spot.
Having won the Premier League four times in five years at Manchester City, he felt the Gunners had enough quality to aim higher and urged them to target the league title instead.
It seemed fanciful in the early months of the season but as the Gunners built up a head of steam, the Ukrainian went public with his ambition.
Referencing Arsenal being known as a “top four, top four” club, he told reporters in November, “I really want to kill and destroy this stereotype.”
By January, even the most sceptical members of Mikel Arteta’s squad were on board with the left-back’s desire to go for top spot. “No one is laughing now and all of us is dreaming,” he said after the 3-2 win over Manchester United.
Three months later and Arsenal are within touching distance of fulfilling Zinchenko’s dream. Six games remain, the lead at the top is five points and a win at the Etihad against the team he left in the summer will swing the odds back in the Gunners’ favour despite their recent wobble.
The question ahead of Wednesday night’s mammoth clash is whether Mikel Arteta’s young squad can get the job done. Without a doubt, the Spaniard thinks the experience of Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus, who also won four titles at City, will be vital.
“For sure. I think experience is key when you’ve been in those moments, to handle those moments and to understand the importance of certain things when you are competing in a football match,” said the Spaniard in Tuesday’s press conference.
“The capacity to transmit as those two players have done for the rest of the team – a lot of things that are very, very important. Some of the rest of them are young but they’ve played a lot of games already.”
Asked how he makes use of the experience of his summer signings, Arteta made clear that there’s no additional emphasis being placed on Jesus and Zinchenko at this point; their presence has been felt since August.
“In a very natural way. Since they came in after two or three weeks, they said – because of where they’ve been – they said ‘we can win this league’.
“So it’s not something we have started to feel or they have tried to transmit – and I didn’t know that but they said that to me a few months ago. It’s been going on since August, it’s not something that now you rely on, this process has been coming for a long time.”
It remains to be seen whether Manchester City pay the ultimate price for the sale of Zinchenko and Jesus to Arsenal. For the moment, Guardiola insists there are no regrets.
“The club took the decisions what they believe they had to take,” he said.
“When these kind of transfers happen it’s because the three parties agree, it’s not just about one part.
“The players are agreed, which is the most important thing, the club wants to sell, the club wants to buy, so they are agreed.
“So the club take the decisions before you ask the question – is it a risk?
“So they’re happy, we’re happy so in the end we don’t have any complaints about Gabriel and Alex and where they are and what they have done for this club in the last years.”