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It Was A Big Season For.....

In the third and final part of my "It`s Going To Be A Big Season For…" series, I focussed on Russian lothario Andrey Arshavin. This time last year, Arshavin was considered Arsenal`s saviour and one of the sole reasons we put a run together which toppled Villa out of the Top 4 and propelled us into the Champions League when it looked for so long as though Arsenal were going to have to settle for the Europa Cup. Arshavin came into a side that was struggling to score goals, after the Gunners failed to score in four consecutive matches in January 2009. The diminutive Russian brought with him a creative spark that Arsenal were badly missing without Fabregas. (To reiterate the point, in January 2009, Robin van Persie was credited with a direct assist or the goal itself every time Arsenal registered on the score sheet from January 1st to February 16th in 2009).

Of course, Arshavin was also an expensive and shiny toy, fresh from its cellophane packaging at the time and as such he was insulated from the brickbats of supporters. Yesterday Philippe Senderos departed, bringing the tired scenario of his maulings at the hands of Didier Drogba back to the Arsenal forums. People act as though Senderos was the only defender to ever suffer at Drogba`s hands, yet nobody seems to make the connection that in his two match ups with Vermaelen this season, Drogba scored four and caused Vermaelen to score an own goal himself. This is what I am getting at; Vermaelen is new and expensive enough for us to conveniently misplace any facts that are inconvenient to our swooning admiration. Give it another six months and Vermaelen will probably then be subjected to the hyper criticism a player gets when the first supporters dare break party ranks a good year after his unveiling. To some extent, this is the status Arshavin has now reached. After 18 months with the club, those that were apparently unaware that he wasn`t exactly the most industrious player (did it really take everyone a year to notice that?) have slowly begun to chide him for his work rate. Likewise, his moon faced demeanour and refusal to foist his badge up to his lips and beat his chest every time he scores doesn`t seem to play well with supporters keen for players to reassuringly clutch the club to its bosom. (Usually just before they agitate for a move to F.C. Mercenary. Or if you`re a bit stupid, like Adebayor, shortly after you agitate for a move to F.C. We Buy Any C** t). At the risk of self flagellation (moi?), this trend wasn`t difficult to predict, having written as I did last summer, "Arsenal fans have already begun to cling to him as a bastion of hope for a season which most likely promises more of the same, he is going to have to deal with that level of expectation and, knowing the fickleness of football supporters, he will have to bear the brunt of the backlash if his form deserts him."

Though oft misquoted in the press (apparently telling the Russian press that he wasn`t happy with his season was enough to get the forums vibrating with moaning Gooners again), Arshavin is not entirely blameless. He might do well to speak to ex team mate William Gallas who has found that the most risk adverse way of avoiding press misinterpretation is not to bother talking to them in the first place. Wenger describes Arshavin as a naturally downbeat character and he should be well aware by now that a problem shared with the English press is a problem quadrupled. But whilst Arshavin is a player that generates discussion off the pitch, what of his performance on it on 2009-10? At the tail end of the 2008-09 season, he raised our expectations to stratospheric levels. I think it`s fair to say he hasn`t been able to adhere to the inevitable "PFA Player of the Year next season" predictions that are always foisted onto January signings. (In my article last summer I heeded the cautionary tale of Jose Antonio Reyes, who was anointed with similar aspersions in the summer of 2004).

Last summer I wrote about how Arshavin struck me as a single minded leader. Saying what needed to be said, doing what needed to be done before buggering off home for some vodka gespacho. However, that assumption has been shown to be incorrect on my part I believe. Whilst Arshavin does like to have his say and obviously enjoys the odd moan, I think I mistook this as a winner`s mentality and desire for better for his team, when in reality Arshavin does come across as an individual in every sense of the word. This was exemplified none more so than in the home game with Manchester United in January, when three early Arsenal attacks saw Arshavin- playing as a central striker- take on a shot when he had better placed team mates in his eye line. We always knew that tracking back was hardly his forte and I think Gael Clichy`s early season form suffered as a result of the lack of protection he was afforded, as well as his own over proclivity to attack. Though Arshavin`s starting role in the front three (when everyone is fit) is primarily on the left, he has license to drift infield and play all across the front three. One wonders whether the signing of Chamakh-attack signals a move back to a 4-4-2 formation which could see Arshavin played in a free role off the main striker and absolve him of all defensive responsibility. It was a role he seemed to excel in behind Bendtner in his first season.

Arshavin still looks to be the sort of player that drifts in and out of games, for all the hand wringing over his lack of application off the ball, over half of his goals in an Arsenal shirt arrive after the 75th minute of games, which would appear to suggest that he conserves his energy rather well and hurts teams when there is little time for riposte. His penchant for drifting in and out of games is hardly a new phenomenon that has come to light this season, so perhaps it was unrealistic of us to expect him to dominate games with his talent. His performance at Old Trafford this season points to the fickle nature of his game. For 40 minutes he barely touched the ball. Yet it was noticeable that United`s players cowered backwards the one time he received the ball in space. The consequence was that he belted the ball into the top corner from 30+ yards. Ditto at Anfield where his involvement was sporadic until he received the ball on the edge of the area and with three defenders closing him quickly, he managed to get the leverage to spank the ball into the back of the net with minimal back lift. Arshavin has the tools to be an element of surprise that I think Arsenal can scarcely do without. He is deceptively strong with a low centre of gravity (witness his goal at home to Stoke, when Huth tried to clatter him en route to goal, only to see Arshavin stand his ground and steer the ball into the bottom corner) and he also has the willingness and the ability to hit shots out of nowhere, with no back lift such as the ones at Old Trafford and Anfield. It makes him crucial to our armoury; even in games he doesn`t seem to be overly exerting himself in.

Arshavin of course spent a good deal of the season in an unfamiliar role leading the line as a central striker. Perhaps in the long term, the fact that it worked so well in his first two games in the position (versus Stoke and Liverpool) was bad for him in the long term. He has the guile to play pretty much anywhere, but lacks the physical presence and that was notable when Bendtner came back into the side to lead the line. I think people also underestimate the effect Russia`s elimination in the World Cup Qualifier against Slovenia in November had on him. At 29, he is at an age and has the requisite quality to light up a World Cup and I think it affected him badly to have that chance snatched away from him. I think there is also a tendency not to entertain the idea that van Persie`s absence had collateral effect on him. Van Persie is Arsenal`s soundboard upfront, holding the ball up and bringing others into play. As a wide forward, Arshavin lost the benefit of van Persie`s wit. He also found that more focus was exuded onto him from opposition players and supporters alike, he was expected to be our main spark upfront when Arshavin is and always has been a more peripheral player.

Questions surrounding his work rate I think are slightly wide of the mark, it is virtually impossible to conceive that, having signed him as a 28 year old, Wenger did not know the player he was signing or that he would have expected him to metamorphosise into some froth mouthed, jaw clenching runabout. Bergkamp was never any of those things; I think Arshavin was bought to be our "x factor" upfront. The player that can conjure something out of nothing when the tippy tappy passing isn`t cutting ice. He takes risks in front of goal, looks for the defence splitting pass and the keeper slaying shot, which gives him an edge over the more conservative powers of Nasri and Rosicky. But amongst the apologies and excuses, is the general fact that I believe Arshavin has the ability to produce more than he did last season, a fact he appears to acknowledge himself. That he only created 2 assists in the league is a damning indictment of his team play in the final third and I don`t doubt he will reflect on that in the summer. By most players` standards, the season Arshavin produced in 2009-10 would have represented a very good return indeed. But Arshavin isn`t most players. He gave us a good season. Next season, he has the ability to give us a great one.LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday June 10 2010

Time: 11:40AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Very interesting appraisal there. He does suffer a little for his honesty and opinion which is never presented in context. I too think that he would benefit if he were to adopt the Gallas stance of saying little. Having said that though his honesty is to be admired and if his shoulders are broad enough to deal with the flak then full credit to him for that. I must confess to having mixed feelings about him. I can understand the view that "he could do something magic at anytime" but how many times is that? It's much the same view that some have of Walcott though from different angles. Walcott is capable of brilliant moments but hasn't yet the maturity to contribute on a broader basis to them team while Andrey is a mature player who has never properly learned how to meet the team needs. In which case we'll have to rely on that individual ability to produce moments of 'magic' and hope that he does so often enough (he is capable of it) to be seen as something more than a luxury player. Personally I prefer players like Pires who could contribute and be brilliant.
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10/06/2010 12:01:00

Could anyone provide a stat for the % AA's that came when Arsenal were already winning? It's something that's been in the back of my mind for a while and I'm just curious.
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10/06/2010 12:17:00

We would all prefer to have players Pires who was up with the very best attacking players to have ever played at Arsenal.
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10/06/2010 12:32:00

Arshavin scored 12 times in all competitions - 7 goals would have no effect on the outcome 5 others were consequential in putting us in a position to win or draw the game at the point they were scored.
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10/06/2010 12:38:00

"when in reality Arshavin does come across as an individual in every sense of the word" ... speaking of that, anybody noticed he is hardly in joy or smiling when another player scores !!
Gooner SA
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10/06/2010 12:51:00

I take it you mean percentage of his goals scored when we were winning?
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10/06/2010 12:54:00

To be fair Gooner SA, he hardly smiles when he scores either.
Little Dutch
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10/06/2010 13:01:00

He kinda smiled when he scored 4 against Liverpool.
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10/06/2010 13:05:00

Yeah i prefer players like Pires as well. What can you do eh. I genuinely think he sees Arsenal as a stepping stone & stilll wouldn't be surprised if he goes this summer, for him though I can't see the opportunity.
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10/06/2010 13:06:00

So what if he doesnt smile after scoring, I prefer his finger to the lips sssshhhhh!! gesture anyway. The shrug after scoring against the Scousers at Anfield also induced a chuckle from me. LD makes an interesting point about the way in which RVP and Arsh combine together and I so hope that both RVP and Arsh stay fit next season because I think this could be a devastating tool in our armoury and I also hope he does have more of a free role playing off RVP and Chamakh as I think this will cater to his strengths and we will see more of the Arshavin of old. He is very outspoken and at one stage I was quite disheartened by his comments, but the media tend to put their own spin on most of his comments and also I have a newfound appreciation for his refreshing honesty and candour though he would do well not to talk to the English media too much. I hope he gets back to his best next season and I can really see him doing some damage if he plays in the free role, links up well with RVP and really causing some damage. Would love to see him traumatise the Scousers more at Anfield next season!!
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10/06/2010 14:53:00

Congrats to U guys for acquiring a brilliant player in Joe Cole on a free transfer(if rumours are to be believed).As a terribly unhappy Chelsea supporter, I hope he can fulfill his potential at Arsenal.
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10/06/2010 15:11:00

Thanks Amos. That stat wasn't as one sided as my mind had me believe!
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10/06/2010 15:32:00

suraj, rumours like the one about Cole have a high chance of being incorrect. United appear to need a creative central midfielder who can also play on the flanks (like Cole) more than we do. Am not saying there isnt a chance that we will go for him but it does not look like a done deal yet.
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10/06/2010 20:23:00

'lothario'? With a long term partner and two small children, I'm not sure Comrades Sue, Grabbit and Runski will appreciate that description of their client.
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10/06/2010 20:43:00

Arshavin can be magical at times but this season his finishing appeared a bit off to say the least. On his day no-one can deny the game changing player he is and you guys done really well to get him for how much you did. Though, like shewore stated, if Arshavin was considered to be a target for the next team he 'dreams of playing for' he would take it in a heartbeat.
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10/06/2010 23:26:00

Only a few hours from the world cup now. Who does everyone think is going to win? I think overall Spain are the strongest by far as they have no weaknesses. If anyone knocks Spain out they will go on to win the World cup. Possibly Holland although their defence looks poor
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11/06/2010 11:42:00

Just stuck a double on the S Am teams today - Ownz, get yourself on the forums mate.
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11/06/2010 13:19:00

I've got a sneaky feeling for Argentina for some reason. I see in other news, that the 6+5 rule has been dropped by FIFA because, surprise, surprise, it's illegal.
Little Dutch
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11/06/2010 13:23:00

Hope you guys don't mind 2 long posts to this great article. Agree with lordjohnny, LD's use of "lothario" to describe Arshavin is a bit strange. I don't associate him with any kind of Don Juan qualities. Excellent write-up otherwise. I started paying attention to AA during Zenit's run to the UEFA cup. I read articles about him and learned what Zenit fans and Hiddink had to say about him. I also paid special attention to him during Euro 08 when there was talk of him coming to Arsenal and when he and his team played a couple of brilliant games. So I knew about the guy's personality. Just ask any Zenit supporter, they'll tell you about his wonderful talent but they'll also tell you he's not a reliable team player, he's certainly no leader, he can be lazy and hates to train, he talks a lot and says exactly what he thinks, and he can disappear in games. In the summer of 08 it was clear he wanted to leave Russia to try one of Europe's top leagues and that his first choice was Spain and Barca. He's never hidden that fact. I remember AW saying he had doubts about Arsh’s fitness to play in England (he said the same thing about Modric at the time). So it was surprising to see AW go for AA in Jan. 09. By then it was obvious Arsh was battling his club to leave but that Barca were not interested. (honestly, do they need him?) Since Arsenal played a brand of football he liked, we were always his 2nd choice. He never hid that. He never claimed to have any special loyalty to Arsenal. He preferred to go to Barca and he still wants to go there. But they show no signs of chasing him, do they? He'd probably go to RMadrid as a 2nd choice after Barca but I don't think Mourinho's interested either. So I knew what we were getting—a player who came to us only because Barca didn’t go for him, and who was willing to take a pay cut. So I'm never bothered by Arshavin's comments because I knew what he's like, he's behaved exactly as I expected. [cont.]
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11/06/2010 13:36:00

[cont.] When he said our season was pitiful, I just shrugged and thought "for the most part, he's right." I'm often amused by what he says. I could get upset about his sexist comments re women but what would be the point? The one thing that I worried about when AW decided to go for him was precisely his concerns about AA’s fitness. And the only criticism I have of AA is his refusal to come to terms with the fact that he did not go to the slower league that is Spain but the faster, more physical league that is England. He admits that he hates to train and he’s lazy. Since he wanted to make his mark in a top league, he should’ve come with the commitment to adapt to that league’s physical demands to make that mark. He’s often said there are times during games in England that he can’t breathe, so he paces himself as best he can. But he could be more effective in games if he worked on his fitness – he just won’t do it. Since he refuses to work on his fitness and--if he stays--gooners just have to accept a player who will disappear in games and suddenly make an incredible individual move that results in a goal. I think AA is very frustrated, and not just because of his England’s high taxes. He’s desperate to go to Barca but they’re not interested. He made a huge, courageous step to leave Russia in order to make his mark on the global stage. But he’s in a league whose physical demands are beyond his fitness and he doesn’t want to buckle down and adapt to those demands. And he’s in a club whose lack of success clearly frustrates him. Going back home would be an admission of failure. He could do the mature thing and accept being at Arsenal earning less money than he did at Zenit, and work hard to help his club succeed. I just don’t think he has it in him to let go of his innate selfishness. Finally, LD is spot-on re Russia being eliminated in wc qualification. That hit him pretty hard.
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11/06/2010 13:36:00

LD, I too have the same sneaky feeling. Time and time again these tournaments prove all the predictions and conventional wisdom just flat out wrong. Were Italy and France "favorites" to reach the final pre 2006? Here are some things on my mind: Europeans never win outside Europe. The Confed Cup winner never goes on to win the wc. Results from qualifying campaigns and warm-up games rarely mean anything when it comes to actual tournament performance. Same with group stage performance. It would be healthy for football if a team like Spain or Holland won it. Barring that, a great attacking team like Argentina even with its dysfunctional coach would be a good 3rd choice. I think a wc located in Africa will bring us a couple of shocks.
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11/06/2010 13:53:00

Re: "lothario", yeah, odd I admit. I must have had another word beginnign with 'L' in mind. I'm easily distracted when writing and often don't really concentrate when in full flow, hence you tend to get the odd erroneous word. It's true Europeans rarely win outside Europe, but there again five European teams have been to finals on different continents and lost, so they're not that far away. I've a feeling the altitude may be an issue and South Americans (generalising a lot here) will probably cope better with that element. (Plus, Messi's that small that I can't imagine altitude sickness would be an issue. Who knows, maybe that's why SWP was picked?) Any right thinking person should look towards Spain but the favourites rarely win it, Brazil are favourites on reputation more than anything I think- this Brazilian side don't strike me as the best of recent years. I've just got this feeling that whilst Argentina were the best side at the last WC and didn't win it, that they'll do it this time. Maradona is the type of guy who just seems to have been destined to live this extraordinary life and special things seem to happen. That means either Argentina will win it, or he'll punch someone out or something. The Argies won't go quietly, that's for sure.
Little Dutch
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11/06/2010 14:02:00

мрачный ........perhaps is more apposite. (That's lugubrious for all you monolinguists).
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11/06/2010 15:29:00

Arshavin had a good season overall. Frankly, his off the field comments dont bother me that much. He can produce a piece of magic, and thats good enough for me. As for his selfishness, as a fan, thats what I've been hoping to see more of from this Arsenal team. Often, I've seen an Arsenal player pass when a shot was the better option. Although Arshavin might be on the other extreme, I have few problems with players going for a shot.
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12/06/2010 08:04:00


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