Why ex-Man City star Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko key to Arsenal test of nerves

A curious twist to this season’s Premier League title race is that Arsenal are now relying on two former Manchester City players to beat Pep Guardiola’s side to the trophy.

Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko swapped the Etihad Stadium for the Emirates Stadium for £75million last summer to help catapult the Gunners to an unexpected push for a first league crown since 2004. , clearly added proven strength as Jesus No., while left-back Zinchenko was essential in enabling manager Mikel Arteta to implement his preferred style: controlling play by overloading central areas as the Ukraine international moved into midfield to influence play.

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One of the many similarities between the two sides is a reflection of that Zinchenko’s role alongside Joao Cancelo previously in City and John Stones’ midfield setup in recent weeks. But it’s arguably off the field where their influence has been most felt. Zinchenko has often taken it upon himself for pre-match team talks, while sources have told ESPN that Jesus has consistently been one of the best performers in training, setting a high bar at a club where players have been guilty of slacking off in sessions under previous managers. with harmful consequences.

Even after being sidelined for three months with a knee injury, Jesus was a regular in the first team, participating in matches and engaging with teammates. His prominent role in celebrating last month’s stoppage-time winner against Bournemouth, despite not being part of the matchday squad, endears him to the club’s fans. Likewise, Zinchenko missed Sunday’s 2-2 draw at West Ham with a groin problem but stood on the touchline during the warm-up and could be seen in the tunnel shortly before kick-off with his arm around Kieron Tierney, his direct replacement in the team, offering words of encouragement.

Arsenal have proven their quality this season but what lies ahead is a test of nerves. Losing 2-0 leads on back-to-back Sundays raises questions about their sustainability. A 2-2 draw with Liverpool made sense at Anfield, squandering a 2-0 advantage again at West Ham where the atmosphere of each game resembled a referendum on the future of manager David Moyes, it wasn’t.

Perhaps Jesus felt something during the game. It was noticeable that the 26-year-old worked deeper than usual, dropping into midfield to try and link up play, but they also stirred into action in an attempt to halt West Ham’s revival. By the time the Brazilian forward left the field in the 67th minute, he had touched the ball 66 times, but only once in the Hammers’ penalty area, for the opening goal.

When it came, there was a collective failure to recognize West Ham’s equalizing danger as Thilo Kehrer picked up a hopeful ball into the box and Jarrod Bowen raced into the channel between Gabriel Magalhas and Tierney, where Zinchenko lived, to score. That’s not to blame Tierney or anyone isolated, but mistakes are happening in Arsenal’s game and if Jesus and Zinchenko lead the force in the dressing room, their roles over the next few weeks will be crucial in determining whether the season ends. Success in failure.

Complacency was a factor at Anfield and the London Stadium. In both games, Arsenal took an early lead and found the contest almost embarrassingly comfortable, before conceding a goal and finding themselves unable to revive their free-flowing best.

Of course, there are other reasons. The Gunners have not kept a clean sheet in four league matches, with 22-year-old centre-back William Saliba missing through injury. Without Saliba they should hope to find a way to hold off bottom side Southampton on Friday, but goal machine Erling Haaland and Manchester City next Wednesday are a completely different proposition.

Forward Bukayo Saka has been the vanguard of all that is good about Arsenal this season, but he has not registered a goal in seven of his last eight matches (the only exception being two goals and an assist against Crystal Palace on March 19.) Moreover, he has shown signs of fatigue in recent weeks. showed Any player can miss a penalty (as he did a few minutes before Bowen’s goal) but it may be noticeable that this long campaign is starting to take its toll — Sunday marked the first time this season he didn’t create a chance or complete a dribble in the same game. .

Needs a final push. While City’s shift through gear has been predicted in recent weeks — they have now won 10 consecutive matches in all competitions — the Gunners need to focus on what they can control. Jesus, a veteran of four titles at City under Pep Guardiola, and Zinchenko should help get that message across.

Arsenal will go seven points clear with a win over Southampton on Friday night. Then beat City — as tough a proposition as it gets — and they’ll have one hand on the trophy. Zinchenko, Jesus and of course, Arteta will know exactly what awaits at City. We’re about to find out if that’s enough to get them over the line. But whatever happens next week, don’t expect City to let anyone else join Arsenal this summer.

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