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LONDON -- Aston Villa are advancing down the left wing but the danger looks minimal for Arsenal. Lucas Digne is carrying the ball towards the Gunners' first line of four, a few yards deeper William Saliba and Gabriel have set themselves to deal with Ollie Watkins. Across the field, Leon Bailey is flying down the flank but he's 10 yards or more past the center backs. That shouldn't be a cause for concern at all ... except Oleksandr Zinchenko seems to have forgotten the laws of the game. Rather than let the Aston Villa speedster run himself into an offside position he insists on charging back. On another day Villa might have pinged the ball into Bailey's flank and something really disastrous could have happened.

The same could be said of the moment just after the hour when Zinchenko insisted on trying to skim Youri Tielemans rather than clear a corner. All that he achieved was to hand position straight back to his opponent, who rattled the bar and post with a brilliant effort from the edge of the box. Watkins also nearly profited from the sort of chaos that does seem to gravitate towards Arsenal's left back. It certainly was not his fault alone that Gabriel passed the ball straight at his back, though should he not have been more ready for the ball to come his way?

Zinchenko didn't lose the game for Arsenal. Leon Bailey's opener might have come from the left back spot, but given it had come off the breakdown after a set piece, he was needed elsewhere. In different circumstances, it might, however, have been him who handed Villa their goals. That has always been true of the Ukrainian, whose arrival from Manchester City at the start of last season was as much a catalyst for this club's emergence as serious title contenders as anyone else's. After all, it was he who dubbed this club potential champions in the dressing room, to the mirth of his teammates. They're not laughing now, the title seemingly drifting to Zinchenko's former club as both Liverpool and Arsenal drop points.

In microcosm, this defeat typified the high wire act of Zinchenko. When he was good, as he often was, Arsenal were really good, bursting through Villa's high line and creating the sort of chances that had Mikel Arteta believing his side might have been three or four to the good at halftime. One precise pass early on found Kai Havertz bearing down on goal, on plenty more occasions he embraced the opposition press and unleashed Martin Odegaard in space. No one got Arsenal into the final third more frequently, as is the case so often when Zinchenko is on the pitch. No one makes more progressive passes nor does any regular get his teammates into dangerous areas more frequently. Getting that production from a left back frees so many of Zinchenko's teammates to do more. Odegaard caused relentless devastation in the first half with the quick ball his midfield pivot was providing for him.

Zinchenko's pass map vs. Aston Villa TruMedia

Defensively there were moments altogether more impressive than those mentioned above. Had it not been for his interception in the first half, Moussa Diaby might well have been away. Indeed in the one one-on-one duels, he dealt quite well with one of the Premier League's most explosive wingers, forcing him to collect the ball with his back to goal. Only Declan Rice made more ball recoveries than Zinchenko.

The great critique of the 27-year-old is that when the ball breaks to the opponent his inversion means Arsenal are missing a left back. That rather misunderstands Zinchenko and how his teammates respond to him. Of course, he won't be in position, he is too busy bringing value on the ball. Someone else can fill in for him, whether that is Rice shuffling to the left or Leandro Trossard hurtling back.

In the first half the good might have outweighed the bad, the obvious exception being when Zinchenko took it on himself to punt the ball into touch while Nicolo Zaniolo was on the ground for a non-head injury. It was the sort of moment to put you in mind of last season's Arsenal and the lack of bite and malice, a refusal to go a bit rogue and play within the laws of the game rather than the spirit.

By the second half, there was no case for Zinchenko's defense. Only one of his seven deliveries into the final third came after the interval. Indeed he could hardly get on the ball at all, completing just eight passes in 42 minutes. Arsenal lost control, in part down to their inability to take the ball from Villa in the final third, and without control of possession, Zinchenko's greatest assets are nullfiied. Instead, Arsenal get a player who tends to throw a boot at any ball that bounces his way, utterly unaware what the consequences may be.

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Speaking about the volte-face of his side after the break, Arteta said. "We were struggling to regain the ball in the areas that we did in the first half. Then we lacked a lot of composure. We rushed things with the ball so we never had enough sequences to get them in the areas that we wanted like we did in the first half. Credit to them as well. But I think we lacked quite a lot of things in the second half and the game became more stretched and more even without a lot of things happening."

He could just as easily have been talking about Zinchenko.

The simple answer to all this might simply be to drop Zinchenko. It is not as if Arteta is short on left backs. Jakub Kiwior might have been roasted by Bayern Munich but he could be given a chance to redeem himself in the Allianz Arena come Wednesday. A fully fit Takehiro Tomiyasu might be a theoretical option too frequently for supporters' liking, but he ought to be available.

Neither solution is problem-free, however. Kiwior's presence means Ben White inverting from the opposite flank, putting Saliba and Gabriel in positions where they are marginally less effective. The same might be true of Tomiyasu, but even if the Japan international did come into midfield, he cannot offer anything like the ball progression and precision of Zinchenko. His entry into the first leg against Bayern Munich raised Arsenal's floor. The Gunners were more solid against counters with White-Saliba-Gabriel as their trio. They wrestled back control in a game that had looked increasingly treacherous for them. Once more, no one was making more passes or tilting the field in his side's favor.

In short, the best theoretical version of Arsenal is one with Zinchenko in it (at least until there is an opportunity to compare the actual Jurrien Timber with the imagined version of him that has developed in supporters' minds). It is just that that version of Zinchenko brings all the ball progression without the propensity for errors that Villa didn't punish but Bayern Munich or Wolves might. It has been all too long since Arsenal have seen that Zinchenko.