The start Arshavin made at Arsenal was explosive. He had arrived at the club after serious interest from Barcelona was dropped at the last minute and not long after leading Zenit St. Petersburg to UEFA Cup glory, and then captaining Russia to the semi-finals of EURO 2008 and was named in UEFA’s squad of the tournament. Then came the four goals at Anfield, a stunner at Old Trafford, and countless productive dribbles and through balls. These were moments that endeared him to Gooners, and gave hope that he could be a hugely important player in such a young team.
However, the glimpses of game-changing quality have slowly become less and less frequent, to the point that now, they barely exist. Arshavin is now not even Arsene Wenger’s first choice substitute when the team is chasing the game. With Santi Cazorla as the Gunners prime creative force in midfield, the likes of Tomas Rosicky, whose time at Arsenal has been terribly hampered by injury, and Gervinho are preferred to the diminutive Russian. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who impressed last season can inject the directness and pace that’s gone from Arshavin’s game, and when arriving from the bench lifts the crowd more than at the prospect of another fruitless outing from the Russian.
Six goals and 11 assists in the Premier League for Arsenal in the 10/11 season represented a decent return, especially since half of his appearances came from the bench, but last season was different. Fifteen games led to one goal, no assists and repeated showings of negative body language and laziness. It’s a huge shame for someone of Arshavin’s undoubted talent, but he seems far more reactive than he used to be, often dawdling on the left-wing and waiting for the ball to arrive rather than seeking out opportunities and trying to make things happen. He looks an archetypal case of a player that doesn’t want to be at a club.
Just like a Matryoshka doll, Arshavin continues to play within himself, and a move back to his homeland would be best for both parties.
Incidentally, the way he plays for Russia makes his form for Arsenal even more astounding. It was hard to believe I was watching the same player when I saw his performance in his country’s 0-0 draw with Ireland in September. Playing as a number 10, he orchestrated attack after attack as the Irish held on for an unlikely draw. In Russia’s next game, a 1-0 win in Slovakia that ensured their qualification, he worked tirelessly and created several openings for teammates that should have made the game a lot safer than it was. The constant dribbles, darts and cute through balls that have been missing from his game at Arsenal were all there for Russia, but the most startling difference was the way he played with a smile on his face.
The loan move back to Zenit for the second half of last season, along with a promising showing for Russia at the summer's European Championships have shown that he is still capable of performing to a high standard, but whether he can still do so in the Premier League is the big question. At least now, Wenger no longer has to rely on him as a regular in the side; he merely adds more depth to Arsenal's attacking corps, and if he can recapture his form from a few seasons ago it will be a pleasant surprise as they look to end their barren spell of no winning no silverware.
When receiving criticism after another ineffective performance last season, Arsene Wenger defended Arshavin by saying he was a player who tries things that may not always come off, but that it’s worth having him in the team for the things that do. It’s a huge shame, but as time has gone on, it looks like we’ve seen the end of those.
Just like a Matryoshka doll, Arshavin continues to play within himself, and a move back to his homeland would be the best thing for both parties.
Other pieces you might like…
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook