He came. He saw. He conquered. He made us jump. He made us cringe. He made us swear. He made us boo. And, he left.
That’s Andrey Arshavin’s Arsenal stint in a nutshell.
I was as excited as any other Arsenal fan, when, on 2nd February, a little smiling Russian, about the size of a dwarf, posed with the Arsenal jersey for the photographers. Here, was one player, who had marvelled at the international stage, playing a stellar role in Russia’s EURO 2008 campaign, and also captaining Zenit St.Petersburg to the UEFA Cup.
But, 3 years on, he finds himself back in Zenit, in what has been a very strange move. Just hours before his transfer was confirmed, by the website, Arsene Wenger was asked about Arshavin’s position, as to if Zenit had placed an offer. And, Wenger, as usual, replied with a two-ways swinging answer.
At the moment, No.
Next thing we know Arshavin is in Zenit, having signed a loan deal till the end of the season. This, after, everyone thought the little Russian was coming to his best after providing a vital assist a week earlier.
Arshavin’s arrival was a breath of fresh air, not only for the club, but for the Premier League as well. I don’t particularly remember his first game. It was against Sunderland or Fulham, and it was a 0-0 draw. Arshavin looked tired after just half an hour on the pitch. I was like ‘Welcome to the Premier League’.
But, soon, Arshavin’s confidence picked up. In a game against Blackburn Rovers, he jinked past Blackburn defenders, and shot from the narrowest of angles, to bust the roof of the net. It was an incredible solo effort from the Russian. He got another at Wigan, few weeks later.
Arshavin’s greatest performance in an Arsenal shirt was to come four days later. The venue was Anfield, and it was a crunch encounter for Liverpool, who simply had to win to stay in contention for the title. Arshavin scored the first minutes before half-time, to take Arsenal into the lead at half-time. Liverpool soon had the lead in the second half. But, the Russian was not done yet. He scored a belter after some hesitant Liverpool defending. And, couple of minutes later, Arsenal were in the lead as Arshavin finished from close range. Torres managed an equaliser. Then, Liverpool’s defence were completely caught unawares as Walcott fed Arshavin, who sprinted half the pitch, to slot home his 4th on the night. It was incredible. And the celebration was typical Arshavin. Tongue out, acting cheeky. Of course, Liverpool managed to draw 4-4, thanks to a certain Yossi Benayoun.
However, Arshavin stole all the headlines the next day. He had announced his arrival, and how! At the end of the campaign, he had 6 goals and 9 assists in just 12 games.
I remember being in London, in 2009. The Armoury, the Arsenal shop, was full of Arshavin’s posters. He was clearly the star everyone wanted for so long at the club. All the magazines were buzzing about how Arshavin could play a starring role for the Gunners in the upcoming season.
And, he started off where he left. He scored a stunning goal at Old Trafford, despite Arsenal losing 2-1. And, then, in a 6-2 thumping of Blackburn, he scored once more. Arshavin was more often than not played as a striker, after Robin van Persie and Niklas Bendtner were out, owing to injuries. He came back to haunt Liverpool, again, as he scored a beautiful winner at Anfield, when Arsenal won 2-1. And, he scored further goals, in the absence of first-choice strikers, taking his tally to 12 for the season.
Arshavin’s stature had fallen a little, as he had been played out of position, as a striker, and also at times as a left-winger. Naturally, his best position was just behind the striker.
Arshavin had another mixed season at the Emirates in 2010-2011. His form seemed to wane at times, but he found himself on the scoresheet, and provided assists consistently. He scored vital goals against Blackburn, Partizan Belgrade, Aston Villa, Wigan and Everton.
But, his finest moment as an Arsenal player came on February 16, 2011. It is a moment etched in the memory of all Arsenal fans who watched the game. It was like clockwork. Wilshere passed to Fabregas, who spotted Nasri’s run. Nasri halted for a moment, and released it at the right moment, for Arshavin to slot home a famous, famous winner against Barcelona. It was complete joy, to see the Russian cover his face with the jersey and run towards the fans.
He then, single handedly earned Arsenal a point at West Brom, after being 2-0 down at one point, as he scored one, and made another.
This season, though has been disappointing, to say, the least, for the Russian. His attitude has been condoned, his form has been criticized, and some even went as far to question if he even wants to play.
He did score the winner against Swansea, Arsenal’s first win of the season, and then he won the game against Bolton in the Carling Cup, making one and scoring one. He assisted van Persie in the 1-0 win against QPR, and more importantly, he played the vital assist for Henry’s matchwinner against Sunderland.
He has found himself the target of fans this campaign. It was visible, he just could not find his touch at times. You could even feel sorry for him. The Manchester City game, for example, where Arshavin found himself in a good situation, but his touch meant the ball rolled out. I myself remember blasting insults at him.
Then, there was the Manchester United game, when Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted with Arshavin. The Emirates was on its feet to a chorus of boos. With the cameras focusing on Arshavin, you could almost feel sympathetic. Minutes later, Arshavin lost his footing, allowing Valencia space inside the Arsenal penalty area, and to assist Wellbeck, who scored the winner for Manure.
Everyone at that point was blaming Arshavin for the winner. According to me, he was just an easy target to vent frustrations at. The entire defence was guilty for conceding that goal.
But, was it all his fault, that he has been below par this campaign? Couldn’t it be down to improper management? How has a player, with obvious talent, become a shadow of himself?
One would say he was played out of position. I always though his best position was just behind the striker, a role which he excelled at, whilst playing for Russia and Zenit. At Arsenal, he was often played on the left hand side of midfield, and asked to feed into the striker. He did the best he could
He seemed unfit this season, the riguours of an ever-demanding league, getting to him. However hard, the poor man tried, he just couldn’t seem to get it right.
And, when he did, for reference, the assist against Sunderland, he was kept out against Milan, where he deserved a chance. And, inexplicably, a week later, against Sunderland, again, when Arsenal slipped to another defeat.
He turned up for the reserves few days later, scoring 2 goals against the B team of Norwich City. And, before we knew it, he was shipped to Russia.
A very strange end to what has been a complicated and eventful stay at the Emirates. He charmed everyone, with his Russian accent, and the media likened him to the an advertisement meerkat. He constantly complained about the poor English weather (not too sure, how different it was from the Russian winters), and he had his say about women driving. Colourful, in the least.
Though his move is just a loan deal, I do not expect him to turn up for Arsenal again. It looks as though Wenger has got the best out of him, and he wouldn’t feature in his plans anymore.
But, if he does, I hope he returns the Arshavin we all love, the player who destroyed Anfield, and slumped Barcelona.
Till then, Adios Andrey!