The curious case of Andrey Arshavin
“It is done.” So tweeted Andrey Arshavin on the eve which he completed his loan deal back to Zenit St Petersburg. While it is only a temporary move, most see it as an admission from Arsene Wenger that Arshavin is no longer wanted at the club. The ideal situation would be Arshavin recovering the form of his old self and returning to Arsenal on that “emotional high” which he spoke about having joined the Gunners, but with how Arshavin has been performing for Wenger’s side, that seems an unlikely scenario. It seems as if Arshavin is finished in London.
But where did it go wrong? He seemed to be doing so well! Goals against Blackburn and Wigan were backed up by an unprecendented four goals at Anfield against title-chasing Liverpool in a crazy 4-4 draw. The goals weren’t of bad quality either – against Blackburn he netted after some wizardry on the left-hand side of the area, at Wigan he ruthlessly pounced on a mistake to fire home, and his four against Anfield were all of high quality. A side-footed finish from close range off the bar. A sensational 20 yard drive with minimal back-lift. An opportunistic volley borne out of being in the right place at the right time. An emphatic left-footed strike having countered from a corner.
When you analyse Arshavin’s impact in terms of the statistics, which Arsene Wenger so loves to peddle, his goal-scoring record wasn’t so impressive in his first half-season at Arsenal. He only actually scored in 3 games, starting in 14 and coming off of the bench once. He did, however, get 11 assists, and his actual impact is less tangible than something that can be broken down in statistics. Arsenal were desperate for someone to ignite their season. Someone to give the fans a reason to cheer. Arshavin was that someone.
But it isn’t the Russian’s statistics that have worsened over time, but the quality of his all-round performances. While he was never a player who would dominate a game for 90 minutes, when he did drift into a game early in his Arsenal career, the impact would usually be devastating. Nowadays, though, you get misplaced passes preceding hands on hips and a disappointed look.
While many criticise Arshavin’s application, it is perhaps as Arsenal Column pointed out an ironically lazy comment to make. Nobody was more critical of his performances than himself, and he showed a willingness to turn things around. However, it just didn’t happen for the diminutive Russian.
Some suggest that Arshavin hasn’t been played in his preferred position, and perhaps he does thrive as a number 10. However, in Arsenal’s system the loose role in between midfield and attack is not a second striker, but more a third midfielder. So while Arshavin might not be playing in his favourite role, there isn’t currently that role in Arsenal’s formation, and it would require some tinkering of the set-up and even perhaps personnel to allow him his favourite position.
Secondly, who says that simply a different position would turn everything around for him? Arshavin has been getting the bread and butter passes wrong, and when even the basics are failing for you a change of position just might not cut it. On the wing, when he loses the ball it’s not as detrimental, but if we played him as our playmaker, he’d arguably still lose the ball a lot, and drift in and out of the game, because that’s just what he’s like. For us, the playmaker should be somebody who can keep the ball, move it around quickly, and dictate the game.
It’s not as if Arshavin is permanently stuck on the flank anyway. He frequently comes inside, sometimes to good effect, assisting and pre-assisting a few goals. But the playmaker in our team is one of the most important roles. Having a player like Arshavin, who ghosts though games (admittedly still contributing of course) in that position, might not be the best of ideas.
The situation of Arshavin is slightly parallel to that of Fernando Torres; it appears to all be in his mind, and not simply down to a decline as a football player. Arshavin’s performances have gone downhill far too rapidly for that, and he should still be playing at something close to his peak. While Torres’ stats have plummeted, it is to Arshavin’s credit that he has still managed to make telling contributions to Arsenal’s games, which is clearly why Arsene Wenger has kept him until now, as he incessantly pointed out the Russian’s statistics.
With Arshavin & Yossi Benayoun both featuring for the reserves, you could argue that he’s surplus to requirements, but then again with Arsenal an injury or seven is/are always just around the corner. Benayoun will probably be the impact substitute Arshavin was meant to be; while against Sunderland it worked well, at Manchester City Arshavin failed miserably, misplacing a few passes wildly and hitting a tame shot in a brilliant position. The erratic Arshavin was never reliable – the one thing Benayoun probably is. It’ll probably go some way to banishing the inconsistency of Arsenal’s play by swapping the most inconsistent player for a reliable one. And indeed, inconsistency has been, in general, Arsenal’s greatest problem.