Disclaimer: This piece first featured on Sabotage Times.
It’s 21st April 2009. A small, diminutive Russian by the name of Andrey Arshavin has scored 4 goals to inspire his side to a draw against title contenders, Liverpool. The fourth was a lung bursting sprint from the edge of his own box to receive a pass from Theo Walcott and smash the ball past Pepe Reina on his weaker foot. The January signing’s face depicted the ecstacy of a superstar who had smashed through the glass ceiling, a phenomenon who was higher than Justin Bieber’s voice post helium inhalation.
That night is but a distant memory now. Along with the winner against Barcelona it will inevitably be the defining memory of Andrey Arshavin for many football fans, the performance of a player at the peak of his powers, fearless and saturated with enthusiasm. Recent reports that that same player, although a mere shadow of his former self will retire at the end of the season, aged just 32 do not surprise me.
Arshavin is perhaps one of the biggest enigmas the club has ever had. On his day he was capable of the sublime, like the game (although it was not his greatest overall performance) against Liverpool. Compare that to what happened on 22nd January 2012, just 3 years later; when then 18 year old rookie, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, was replaced after a fantastic performance by established international, Andrey Arshavin. The substitute was met by loud boos from the Emirates faithful. In many ways, it was the straw which broke the camel’s back.
Football has become a game more about the collective unit than the individual. Yes, Lionel Messi is the stand out player of that Barcelona side, but where would he be without the work rate and tactical awareness of almost every single player (including himself) in that side? He certainly wouldn’t have won so many titles, that’s for sure. It’s quite ironic that Barcelona themselves had a bid of €15 million rejected by Zenit in June 2008, especially considering the philosophy of teamwork and intensive Guardiola adopted when he took charge. The Russian wouldn’t have survived a season.
Although he’s not a particularly selfish player, Arshavin is a lone ranger on the pitch and just doesn’t have the desire and the fitness to work in the system Arsenal play. He’s never been good enough to warrant a system change in order to get the best out of him – unlike Cesc Fabregas, who was the reason behind the switch to 4-3-3. A player who is being paid as much as he is should surely be doing everything he can to get into top physical condition in order to force his way back into contention. But his love affair with football died a long time ago, and his almost complete absence from the first team just happened to coincide with the divorce of his wife at the start of the season. Arshavin represents a footballer from a bygone era, one whose ideal position is as a second striker – a position nigh on defunct in modern football.
The man with a degree in fashion design is an artist limited not by talent, but by desire, hunger and will. It’s this lack of hunger which embodies a career characterised not by brilliance, but by regret and disappointment. Perhaps the biggest indication of his lack of hunger is his rejection of Reading back in January. The move would’ve been one which would have seen him get regular game time, and a chance to re-spark the dying embers of his career. Arshavin has made the choice to turn his back on playing first team football, seemingly more happy to sit in the reserves and do whatever he does to pass the time than put in the effort required. It’s sad to watch. But he’s not the only one. Look at players like Adriano Lima, Robinho and even Freddy Adu. These were all players with great potential but their attitudes meant that they never reached the heights expected of them. It seems that Arshavin’s finally decided to bite the bullet and retire – few Arsenal fans will miss him. Like the Russian, they’ll see the demise of the player who came 6th in the contest for the Balon d’Or in 2008 as something which was pretty much unforeseeable when he first joined.
I don’t think you can blame Wenger for the demise of Andrey Arshavin – he put his faith in him by paying such a large transfer fee, rarely criticised him in public and started him in games even when the fans were on his back. Or perhaps he was too easy on him? Perhaps Arshavin is the type of player who needs criticism? I highly doubt it.
Who knows, maybe in a few years time when he’s one of the biggest (figuratively) fashion designers in the world, he’ll be happy, truly happy.
Arsene Wenger once said that ‘If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages.’ Either Arshavin has eaten too many sausages or we haven’t had enough caviar – one thing’s for sure, he wasn’t ASDA price.
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