Zinchenko steps up return by playing in Game 4 Ukraine after Arsenal permission

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Oleksandr Zinchenko played 11 minutes of the Game 4 Ukraine charity match (Image: Chris Lee - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Oleksandr Zinchenko played 11 minutes of the Game 4 Ukraine charity match (Image: Chris Lee - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Oleksandr Zinchenko stepped up his return from a calf injury ahead of the news as he played in the Game 4 Ukraine charity match at Stamford Bridge.

Zinchenko helped organise the fixture with Andriy Shevchenko to raise funds to help rebuild Ukraine's facilities and infrastructure damaged by Russia's ongoing invasion. Arsenal originally stated that Zinchenko would only 'be involved in a non-playing capacity' due to his injury, having missed their final three Premier League games last season with a calf issue.

The 26-year-old has also not featured at all during pre-season for the Gunners, but now appears to be on the verge of a return after playing the first 11 minutes of the Game 4 Ukraine. Zinchenko captained his team, having been given permission to play by Arsenal a day before the Community Shield.

Speaking after the game, Zinchenko said: "I feel much better and trained with the team yesterday. I would love to play against City but the manager will decide. Unfortunately I missed pre-season so now I need to get back to my best version."

Mikel Arteta's side are set to face Manchester City in the traditional curtain raiser on Sunday, but it is unclear whether Zinchenko will feature having not played a competitive match since March.

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"He's close," Arteta said when asked about Zinchenko following Arsenal's final pre-season game against Monaco on Wednesday. "I think he's going to start training with the team and hopefully we will have him back very soon."

And Zinchenko himself gave a promising update on his return on Friday, telling club media : "It is getting better now. Obviously I have a little bit of time to feel completely better in terms of my injury that I received before.

"The target at the moment is just to get as fit as possible as soon as I can, and then of course to stay fit throughout the season, which is most important. That's my target. It's always tough when you can't play, but it was nice to be all together [for pre-season] and to prepare ourselves in the best way for the next season.

"We spent some good time together as a group, which will really help us for the season. It's my second pre-season as I joined up with the team in America last time, so obviously I've had a year with the lads now and we already know each other much better. That makes everything easier."

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Zinchenko also said the Game 4 Ukraine would not only help raise funds to support his homeland but also send a "powerful message to the rest of the world". He added: "This event means a lot for me, and also for our country.

"It's for the Ukrainian people. A lot of ex-football players, a lot of legends will be there - not just footballers, but some famous actors. I want to thank them for their support and it's going to be something special.

"The main target is to raise some funds to rebuild one of the schools in my region in Ukraine. It's also another powerful message to the rest of the world that we stick together. For us as Ukrainian people it means the world because people might be watching this on TV, and back in Ukraine they're going to think, 'Wow, look how many people are staying behind us.'

"My kids will ask me when they're bigger, 'Daddy, what did you do when this war was happening?' I just want to look in my daughter's eyes and just say: 'Look, your mother and I tried to do our best to help people, to help our country.'"

Matthew Cooper

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