When Andrei Arshavin became Arsenal’s record signing in February 2009, he was regarded as one of the best talents in European football. Fresh from a UEFA Cup triumph with Zenit St Petersburg in 2008 and a superb showing at the European Championships later that summer, Arshavin seemed set to light up the Premier League with his talent. At the time, Arsenal were strongly regarded as the team playing comfortably the best football in the country and Arshavin’s technical ability and creativity suggested that the North London club would be the perfect setting.
Following a gradual introduction to the Premier League during the tail end of the 2008-09 season where he scored 6 goals, 4 of which came in one memorable match against Liverpool at Anfield, in truth Arshavin has struggled during his time in England. Last season in particular, Arshavin’s performances did not live up to the expectations of fans and football purists alike as he looked low on confidence and had to settle for a place on the bench for many of the big games. With the potential departure of Cesc Fabregas to his boyhood club FC Barcelona and the speculation surrounding Samir Nasri’s future with the gunners, arguably this is the season when Arsenal need Arshavin to fulfil his undoubted talent.
Prior to joining Arsenal, Arshavin had become accustomed to playing in teams which were primarily built around him. It was clear from his performances during Zenit St Petersburg’s successful UEFA Cup campaign that he was the playmaker in the side and had the license to roam freely and find space to exploit the opposition’s defence. Similarly, when playing for Russia, Arshavin played in a free role behind the front man and orchestrated proceedings, particularly on the counter-attack.
At Arsenal however, with the emergence of Cesc Fabregas as a more advanced attacking midfield player, Arshavin has been deployed predominantly on the left hand side as opposed to through the middle which has failed to bring out the best in him. Should Fabregas leave for Barcelona, it may provide Arshavin with the opportunity to play in behind Robin Van Persie as a second striker, a role which will also bring with it less positional responsibility which is something which Arshavin has never looked comfortable with.
After all, if Arshavin can be returned to top form, there are arguably few players in the game and certainly very few players who would be available to bring in who would play that role more effectively. His close control, vision and ability to score from the edge of the box make him a difficult proposition to handle for any opposing defence, particularly if Wenger shows enough confidence in his player to hand him a free role. With the potential for Arshavin to be at the heart of an attacking unit consisting of Theo Walcott, Robin Van Persie and Gervinho, supported from midfield by Jack Wilshere and Alex Song, should these players click, there may be hope yet for Arsenal fans who may be anticipating another season without a trophy.
Despite Arshavin’s lacklustre performances last season, at times he demonstrated that he still had the talent at his disposal, particularly with the control he exhibited in scoring Arsenal’s second goal against Barcelona at The Emirates in the Champions League. The question mark which could potentially be levelled at Arshavin is his desire and hunger to perform at the top of his game on a consistent basis, home and away, and inspire his team mates to achieve the results they need. After all, prior to joining Arsenal, Arshavin had won domestic and European honours in successive seasons and had become a talisman for club and country. He currently looks a long way short of that player but how Arsenal need him to rediscover that form and desire to help them in their quest to silence the critics end their own pursuit of honours next season.
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