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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?

’til Tomorrow.

Arshavin-Speak Gives Media Mischief Opportunity

Thomas Vermaelen lost his appeal for the red card, the Football Association believing that not having the ball under control means that an obvious goalscoring opportunity exists. Still this is nothing new, this is after all an organisation which is riven with self-interest, cannot organise itself commercially or football wise and is generally making a PR disaster of the 2018 World Cup bid, unable to bring the media onto their side.

Although that is of no surprise since good news does not get hits, sell papers or fill the airwaves. Don’t believe me? Andrey Arshavin has put the wind up a few people, no doubt attracting the opprobrium of the masses for daring to voice an opinion that is not wholly supportive of his fellow squad members and their collective efforts to win the Premier League title. At least that is how the headlines portray his words. As with every other story, the enticement to read the article bears little resemblance to those loosely translated from Russian TV:

I am still of the opinion that to win trophies Arsenal needs more players. There is the simple fact that last summer we sold two players and bought only one. So there is an obvious deficit of at least one. Then we lost Van Persie, Gibbs and Ramsey for a long time. So for me it is natural we need new players.

Without the variety of players we have less diversity in attack. That allows our opponents to read our combinations more easily. Finally, it results in less ball possession for us and our defence comes under more pressure. The Premier League is very interesting, at least as long as we continue fighting to win it. But without new experienced players, real stars, it will be difficult to achieve success.

Ideally we need three or four such experienced players and then among our youths there should be guys who are not only good at playing football but have real character.

Arshavin’s comments are nothing if not consistent, this is a central point he has put forward since joining the club. I am not sure how Zenit St Petersburg achieved success – was it youth or a mixture of big signings and talented youngsters – but the fact is that Wenger did not sign anyone and there is little point in being hung up on the point, supporters and players alike.

The Russian is outspoken and is entitled to have his opinions. Who knows, maybe it is a widely held belief within the squad except those who benefit from the youth policy will defend it whilst age is on their side and diplomacy reigns when talking to the media. Arsenal players rarely criticise the club, the manager or each other when speaking publicly. I suspect that this will be met with eyes raised to Heaven, shrugged shoulders and no interest whatsoever. If someone takes offence, let them use it as motivation, to prove the Russian wrong.

The translation is a little bit loose or Arshavin is a tad more conservative with his words on club duty. Speaking of Nicklas Bendtner, he argued that the diversity in attack is helped by the Dane being in the side:

Obviously it has helped us [having Bendtner back]. He creates more space for the players behind him, and that offers us more time and possibilities to do something special. It helps me personally of course. And he’s good in the air – he wins a lot of balls that way and through this we can gain even more possession.

We can play differently with him in the side – when I am playing centrally we can use only low balls, but with Nick up front we have the opportunity to play higher balls and balls in behind, varying things a bit more.  His goals have been welcome. He’s in good form and has shown that he has the instinct for a chance – not that many teams make as many chances as we do!

It is apparent that Arshavin does rate the players at the club, lest his words be considered divisive. They are not, more to do with the fact that we are not used to hearing footballers speak their mind. Too often, there is a party line being toed. There is nothing wrong in that but some honest opinions make a change. Nor does it mean that Arshavin does not believe the club can win the title, simply that it will not be easy.

He does not omit himself from criticism. Arshavin set high standards for himself in his first four months at the club and has met them, generally speaking, in his first full season. Yet he has struggled to find consistency:

I do not have a sense of stability in my game. I feel I can match them and sometimes when I catch some inspiration I show performances that are on the same level or close to them. But I am still not as consistent as [Drogba, Cesc and Torres].

He is right. Adaptation to the English game is not an instant process and he has been asked to play in unfamiliar roles during his time at the club, central striker against lumps of defenders does not naturally suit him. Were he as unhappy as the media portrays, his performances would not have been as good as they were.

Once more misinterpretation rules supreme; the truth is less prosaic than the headlines which trumpet Arshavin’s throwing in of the towel would have you believe. The interpretation from Russian to English allows for some mischief but you have to admit, it is nowhere near as funny or psychedelic as that which his own website carries.

’til Tomorrow.

Double Talking Dutch and More

Robin van Persie provided a glimpse of brightness in a matchless week with the view of his national team coach that he could be back by early April.

This is tempered of course, by the fact that the KNVB doctors recently opined that the striker could be fit to play in next week’s round of pointless internationals, sorry , important international matches, crucial in the respective nations preparation for the World Cup finals or sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs, regretting that missed open goal or defensive lapses which precluded their involvement in South Africa.

Coming back at that point could prove crucial if he hits the ground running, quickly rediscovering the form van Persie was showing prior to suffering his latest injury. At that point, Arsenal could be in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, closing ominously on the Premier League title or sitting wondering what might have been, such is the delicate balance upon which the remainder of the season rests.

Ahead of this weekend’s clash with Stoke, Eduardo believes he will be fit for the teatime kick-off:

I’ve not got a problem with the leg now but I do suffer muscle injuries because I was out for so long and now I’m working so hard to come back.

But I’m getting stronger physically, I’m stronger mentally, my confidence personally is growing and I believe I’m at a club where we can win titles and trophies because we are one of the top ten teams in the world.

Eduardo provides an excellent outlet in the forward line, being naturally left-footed, something sometimes missing and asking a lot of Clichy to break forward to provide the width. His goal ratio is not where it was before he broke his leg but his predatory instincts will correct that. Getting fully fit though, will be the highest priority.

Absolutely Arsenal are in that top ten although as I trawl this wide world thingy, I sometimes wonder if that is the case, such is the pervasive negativity.

A win at the Britannia might help, especially if Chelsea drop points this weekend although judging by Manchester City’s woeful performance last night, I would not hold out much hope of that happening. Those who desire Arsenal to fall into the clutches of a Sugar Daddy would do well to watch and learn from the travails of City, decent players unable to gel into a team, facing an almighty scramble to even get into European club competition next season.

It is a lesson which vindicates, to some extent, Wenger’s policy of not signing all and sundry. City have been in good positions before – albeit a lifetime ago – with money to spend, bought a good player and blown a league title, although it is harsh to blame Rodney Marsh for that in the same way that Faustino Asprilla should not be held at fault for Newcastle blowing a Premier League title in the final decade of the last century.

As Sol Campbell said in the programme for last weekend’s match, Arsenal has to play to their maximum, perhaps more expansive than the answers provided by Andrey Arshavin in his latest mind-numbing Q&A session. Inside the banality of the questions popped the odd interesting one, Arshavin reticent to provide an answer to the level of injuries – ‘it’s a difficult question‘ – which was surprising since he has an opinion on just about everything else.

’til Tomorrow.

Promised You A Miracle

Is It A Dream

Andrei Arshavin spoke earlier this week: 

My greatest dream is to win a title with my club. Naturally, it would be better if we won the Premier League or the Champions League. But to do this we need a miracle – which is to start playing finally with our optimal line up. I do not think we have had it once so far this season.”


It is clear that Arshavin’s remarks are more out of frustration at the club’s injury list rather than not being able to compete with Chelsea or reigning champions United.

I left the last sentence in, the journalists interpretation of how the Russian more accurate than numerous online proclamations that Arshavin does not believe that the Arsenal squad is good enough. Indeed, the Russian appears more to be praising the squad for remaining in contention in difficult circumstances, surely a recommendation rather than condemnation.

As opposed to boosting rampaging negativity, Arshavin further burst the balloon by playing down any signings coming in – presumably he does not count Campbell – during the current transfer window:

I have a feeling that Arsenal are not going to buy any new players in the winter transfer window. Or if we do, it will be at the very last moment

That seems to be the Arsenal MO in recent seasons; expect a media storm when the transfer window is extended with paperwork faxed through to the FA at the last possible moment. Whether Wenger needs anyone or not is another matter, one that he is best placed to decide on. Personally, I would have thought a striker is needed, even with Bendtner’s return, to have sufficient cover through to May. History will tell us if that is the right decision. Or more likely, leave arguments raging if no signing is made and Arsenal end up without a pot to…

Oh Yes, I Was A Great Defender

Apologies to Elvis for that one but if the club can use a song by The King entirely inappropriately, then I’m sure he will forgive me as well. Either that or I will buy him a cheeseburger should our paths ever cross.

Sol Campbell reportedly is once more an Arsenal player, covering for injuries should they arise in the centre of defence. What difference between this and Patrick Vieira is a good question. Quite a lot as it happens, especially since the Frenchman was widely wanted to play first team football on a regular basis to further his own international desires. Campbell is under no such illusions, fully aware that he may get games but not on a regular basis as long as Vermaelen and Gallas remain fit.

And that is how it should be; the pair have been outstanding for Arsenal this season and unless there is a severe injury or monumental loss of form, neither should be replaced. Whilst, as the new boy, Vermaelen has garnered most of the adulation, Gallas’ turnaround is no less spectacular considering his fall from grace. Those who talk consistently of a winning mentality and question whether this exists at Arsenal, need look no further at the recovery of his form for evidence.

The signature of Campbell on a short-term contract signals that Wenger will not be pursuing any other central defenders. That in itself is a boost for Johan Djourou. Currently out injured, had the manager not been confident in the Swiss international recovering fully and more importantly, believed that Djourou had a long-term future at the club, the short-term solution of Campbell would not have been considered.

’til Tomorrow.

 

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