One Of Us Speaks: Can Andrey Arshavin Overcome His Own Doubts?
If as Puccini believed, “Art is kind of illness”, then Big Al is the sickest little puppy of them all. Take it away Maestro….
We might have seen it coming. On the wintry day he signed, after those slow weeks of tough negotiations, the Arsenal site went to an expert on Russian and Eastern European football to get a perspective on the new recruit, Andrey Arshavin.
Jonathan Wilson pretty much told Arsenal fans what we wanted to hear,
He’s quick, he’s sharp, he reads the game very well, he is a typical Arsène Wenger player in that he seems to have a very acute understanding of where other players are on the pitch.
But in hindsight his most pertinent remarks addressed the player’s role in Zenit’s poor Champions League in 2008 and the loss of form that followed,
They didn’t have much luck in that campaign – it was derailed almost as soon as it started – so for Arshavin the last six months have been difficult. His interest seemed to have waned and he was substituted in five of his last seven League games for Zenit.
Uh-oh, so here’s a player who can sense where his teammates are, has a bit of pace and plenty of imagination, technique and craft, but who has shown that he can lose heart for long periods when things aren’t going his way. Well, that could be a problem – because tough times are a game away for any English club. Arsenal plays in a league in which every player for every team has to toil for a run of results. It’s a competition full of seasoned, reactive managers who prey on opponents’ weak spots.
And then there’s the media. The pressure for a player or manager to prove his worth consistently, and the illogical way in which, say, one subdued performance can tarnish the ten great ones that preceded it. And just look at how managers are singled out; it’s like a prison spotlight. Right now it’s trained on Villas-Boas and he’ll be wincing in its glare until his team wins five on the trot or he’s sacked.
Over the last eight years or so there’s been a financial exigency to stay in this division that has given rise to a bunch of uncompromising, battled-hardened teams, ready to use chicanery or occasional violence for an advantage. The football’s not always great, and it might be a cliché, but there’s no shortage of grit in this here league. Only recently, it’s also been bolstered by exotic skill and nous.
Anyway, point is this; it’s no place to come for an easy ride.
I don’t want to try to run any Arsenal player into the ground, or write a player’s epitaph before there’s any suggestion that he’ll leave the club; I just want to try to find out why his career has played out like this, because it’s confusing to see someone who can do it all – when he’s in the zone – do so little. That’s what we got on Saturday against Fulham; not much. It was just one performance, but could have been one of any over the last 18 months. When these should be his best years.
After the City defeat I think many Arsenal fans are a little worried about our attacking reserves. I’m being hard enough on Arshavin here, so I don’t think I could bring myself to have a go at Park and Chamakh, who offer graft and never had grand reputations.
The reason I bring up our attack is because the current situation might have been avoided, and not through expensive recruitment either. The last time van Persie suffered long-term injury we had a real attacking shortage.
In 2009 van Persie was the ostensible apex of our 4-3-3. Just two years ago he wasn’t really a player keen on holding up the ball, and truth was, he didn’t have to. He’d drop really deep, and back then Arshavin, Fàbregas and Walcott would fly into the vacuum he’d left up front and wreak all kinds of havoc.
The rest of the time he was trying to get in behind the defence, so nobody had any idea where he’d show up. We’re seeing a master-class this season. Here was Jürgen Klopp last week,
Robin van Persie, wow, what a performance, what a player. He’s certainly one of the best in Europe. I’ve hardly ever seen a player who plays so deep in midfield and then is such a danger in the box
And back then, when we did lose van Persie, I think Wenger’s plan was pretty sound. Arshavin was his candidate for that role, and why not? It suited his talents, and, more than any position he’s played at Arsenal, resembled the one he had at Zenit or has for Russia. Despite a promising start though, he never really adapted. It’s a job that he should have been able to do.
Had that switch been a success, we might now have a contingency plan. But Arshavin couldn’t do it. Now I don’t think he wants to be difficult – it’s something in his makeup. I think he doubts himself; I think he’s susceptible to negative thoughts, and I think the disarming self-honesty we admire is a quality that has hindered his progress at Arsenal.
You might say he was never cut out to be at a top club where today all players need to be flexible and ready to make sacrifices for the group. Maybe he left Zenit too late in his career. Or perhaps his move might have worked out better had he gone to a club at which he’d have the freedom of the pitch, with no responsibility until the ball lands at his feet. In another league, somewhere else in Europe perhaps.
He’s playing for a manager with faith in statistics, and Arshavin’s have had a downward trend since his first season. But while he’s still at the club he’ll get games, because we know there will be moments of brilliance. This summer he’ll have what could be a last chance to make his mark on the international stage; there’s time still for a final flourish, but can we afford to give it to him?