Title momentum swings back into Arsenal’s favour as Oleksandr Zinchenko provides touch of class

Title momentum swings back into Arsenal’s favour as Oleksandr Zinchenko provides touch of class

Mikel Arteta may not want to label Arsenal favourites for the title, but it is hard to argue otherwise after a performance of champions.

The Gunners are five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and the finishing line is now in sight.

Now, just 13 games stand between them and their first title since 2004.

The momentum in the title race is with Arsenal following a remarkable swing since they surrendered top spot following a 3-1 defeat against City two weeks ago.

Arsenal have bounced back brilliantly from that disappointment and demonstrated the confidence that shows they believe they can go the distance during Wednesday night’s 4-0 win over Everton.

“You know my answer there,” said Arteta when asked if his side are now title favourites.

“What I like is that everybody has the enthusiasm to do it, and we’re not going to stop that - we have to promote that but the way to promote that is by looking at this game and understanding that we have to do a lot of things better, especially in the first half.”

Arteta is right that there is room for improvement, even after Arsenal brushed aside a toothless Everton to take full advantage of their game in hand.

The Gunners eventually cruised to victory thanks to two goals from Gabriel Martinelli and one each from Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, but they were frustrated for much of the first half.

Everton had beaten Arsenal 1-0 with a disciplined display at the start of last month and they replicated that approach at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal can expect plenty of their opponents to set up the same way during the run-in, starting with Bournemouth on Saturday.

The game plan has worked for teams in the past and Everton succeeded early on. They starved Odegaard of space in the middle and they doubled up on Martinelli and Saka.

Someone needed to produce a moment of magic and it was Oleksandr Zinchenko’s wand of a left foot that did the trick.

Zinchenko has been a left-back in name only this season and last night was a reminder of that.

He created the opener by popping up on the right after a mazy dribble and finding Saka with a disguised pass that split Everton defenders James Tarkowski and Vitalii Mykolenko.

Saka made the most of the chance as he lashed the ball past Jordan Pickford with Arsenal’s first opportunity in front of goal.

“We needed a magic moment there and Alex and Bukayo produced that,” said Arteta.

“He (Zinchenko) brings something different to the team. His mentality and his quality to do certain things allows us to be unpredictable and to generate a lot of threat every time we are in ball possession. He’s played those kind of games against low blocks 200 times and that’s very helpful.”

A touch of class: Zinchenko is helping Arsenal find a way to win (AP)
A touch of class: Zinchenko is helping Arsenal find a way to win (AP)

Zinchenko has been vital to Arsenal this season, but his importance will be even greater between now and May.

His experience of winning four titles at City is key, but of greater value is what he brings on the pitch.

With teams swamping Odegaard in midfield and doubling up on Martinelli and Saka, someone else has to take the lead and create.

Zinchenko did just that, roaming from left-back and popping up all over the place to cause havoc. It is hard to see how he can be stopped, unless opponents start man-marking him.

His brilliance unlocked this game and the floodgates opened after that.

But even at the end he was still pulling the strings, creating the fourth goal with another disguised pass.

It was a fitting finish to a perfect night and the pressure is now on City, who face Newcastle in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday.

Arsenal are in the driving seat in the title race - and Zinchenko can keep them on track.