Arsenal hero Oleksandr Zinchenko has become a symbol of Man City’s affection for Pep Guardiola

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has criticized the character of his players – at the same time one of his former stars, Oleksandr Zinchenko, has been pushing Arsenal’s title bid

Pep Guardiola is not happy with his Manchester City team

It seems a little ridiculous to accept the notion that Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are currently in crisis.

After all, they’ve just taken six points from Tottenham and Wolves in the space of four days and plundered seven goals in the process.

But it is clear that something is not right with the Premier League champions: Guardiola himself has even admitted that his team are no longer the indomitable force they used to be and even went so far as to question whether City have “the passion, the fire” or not. and hungry” needed to win what would be a fifth title in six years after their poor first-half display against the Spurs in midweek.

In more ways than one, City’s troubles are linked to Arsenal. The Gunners, who last won the domestic crown in 2004, have emerged as City’s most credible rivals this season and are currently five points clear of them at the top of the table.

Even as recently as the summer, that was unthinkable: and if he didn’t, then it’s highly unlikely Guardiola would have agreed to the departures of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus, who both moved to the Emirates for quite a small fee.

Although Zinchenko and Jesus have frequently been in and out of the City squad, both have forged a winning streak since their time with the champions. And this year, it’s Arsenal, not Manchester City, who are reaping the benefits of that.

Zinchenko in particular is a strange case: often second to the irresistible Joao Cancelo, Guardiola hailed the Ukraine international’s versatility before giving him his blessing to complete a move to north London in the summer. Already, it’s clear that the decision has backfired.

The 25-year-old has struggled with injury problems at the Emirates but has been influential in Arsenal’s title race. Ironically, while Zinchenko was thriving away from Manchester, the ever-reliable Cancelo was starting to flounder.

Oleksandr Zinchenko has been influential in Arsenal’s unlikely title bid

But it’s not just on the field that Zinchenko excels. Having established himself as a leader just months into his Arsenal career, the full-back’s current attitude towards the title race speaks volumes – and seems a far cry from Cancelo, who has been relegated to a support role since Guardiola revealed it. some players don’t show the ‘body language’ needed in training.

After starring in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Manchester United in the same reverse full-back position Cancelo has played at the Etihad in recent years, Zinchenko told Premier League production: “To be honest when I just arrived, the quality I saw – obviously I knew the Arsenal team, I knew everything before – but still, I realized on the pitch that we have everything to achieve big things. And I started talking in the locker room like, ‘guys, forget the top three or whatever, we need to think about the title’.

“Some of them laughed, but no one is laughing now.”

Guardiola definitely won’t. Such mental fortitude has propelled Manchester City to new heights during Guardiola’s reign. Now, that’s the hallmark of Arsenal’s incredible season.

City also felt the brunt of Zinchenko’s absence on the pitch; The versatile ace is no longer part of his arsenal, the Manchester City chief having been forced to turn to an untested teenager in the form of Rico Lewis to replace Cancelo amid a struggling full-back.

Zinchenko won four Premier League titles with Manchester City

Although Lewis has, no doubt, stepped up admirably, it will not be lost on Guardiola that it was Zinchenko who officiated for Arsenal against Manchester United on Sunday.

Equally adept at filling in on the wing or in midfield, Zinchenko solidified the ship on more than one occasion for Guardiola during his City career; what could the Manchester City boss do with someone with Zinchenko’s pedigree and attitude to lead by setting the current example with some of his faltering tried and tested lieutenants.

Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp pointed out over the weekend that Guardiola, who has never been one to shy away from changes, is currently trying to thrash out a new winning formula in a bid to prevent Arteta and Arsenal pipping City to the title.

You certainly wouldn’t put it past him finding one considering the vast array of talent Manchester City boast in their dressing room.

He insisted over the weekend that he had “no regrets” over his decision to allow Zinchenko and Jesus to leave the club in the summer – but it’s impossible to ignore that the former is, in many ways, both the root of and the solution to some of the issues plaguing Manchester City this season.

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