Arsenal supporters, Mikel Arteta and technical director Edu would have had a vested interest in Wednesday night’s World Cup play-off semi-final decider between Scotland and Ukraine.
Originally the fixture was due to be played on March 24, but because of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military, it was rearranged for June 1 instead with the visitors emerging 3-1 victors thanks to goals from Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Yaremchuk and Artem Dovbyk.
As a result, Ukraine will now face Wales in the World Cup play-off decider on Sunday where the winners will join England’s group in Qatar alongside Iran and the United States.
Now, Wednesday night’s encounter would have provided Arteta and Edu with an opportunity to scout Aaron Hickey and Oleksandr Zinchenko – two players heavily linked with summer moves to the Emirates Stadium – as the Arsenal pair aim to bolster the first-team squad ahead of next season.
Interestingly, with Zinchenko starting for Ukraine on the left-hand side of a midfield three, it meant the two reported Arsenal transfer targets were sometimes in direct competition against each other on the same flank.
However, whilst the Manchester City ace was the one who was in a celebratory mood at the final whistle, overall, Hickey didn’t have a comfortable night at Hampden Park and that’s reflected in his Daily Record player rating of 5/10. Furthermore, the publication’s description of the defender’s performance was that a game of this importance came too soon in his career.
‘Competitive debut for the Bologna kid and displayed his versatility by operating on the right but couldn’t get a handle on Yarmolenko. Too big a step for the teenager who struggled to either contain attacks or get forward down his flank and outmuscled by Yaremchuk at second.’
Whether nerves played a role in Hickey’s struggles against Ukraine remains to be seen, but according to Graeme Souness the fact he played 36 games for Bologna in Serie A last season should be enough to convince Arsenal fans that Wednesday night was a minor setback in the 19-year-old’s development.
“I am really interested to see how this young man does, if you’ve played 36 games this year in Serie A, then you have something about you,” Souness told Sky Sports ahead of kick-off. “It’s not an easy league.”