Andrei Arshavin arrived at Arsenal in the January 2009 transfer window as a superstar. He was to be the final piece of the attacking jigsaw that could win Arsenal the league. He had earned this reputation due to his performances in Zenit St. Petersburg’s victory in the 2008 UEFA Cup and then in Russia’s run to the semi-final of Euro 2008. In both sides he was the mesmeric string puller, shuffling around the pitch at high speed with the ball glued to his foot. Arsenal spent £15m to get him, and it looked an immediate bargain. In those last few months of the 2008/09 season he managed to score six and assist eight in just 12 games. Arsenal had seemingly signed a bona fide world-class player. And yet, Arsenal have just announced that they will not be renewing his contract and he is free to leave. The same contract he signed in 2009. So what has happened to turn a blistering start in to tomorrow’s scrapheap?
Arshavin’s name was made at Arsenal with his start to life at the club. He made his debut after the club had suffered successive 0-0 draws, and they had two more in his first two games. And then he exploded in to life. Arsenal then won seven of their next eight games, scoring 25 goals in the process. Arshavin was involved in 14 of those 25 goals. He was the saviour. The man who had resuscitated a dying Arsenal attack. He was already a hero and a Premier League star. He got sick and wasn’t effective in the final three games, Arsenal only won one of them. He had rapidly established himself as a key man. Most notable in this early barrage was the four goals he scored away at Anfield in a hectic 4-4 draw.
He made his name so quickly and with so little settling in period that some of his failings were overlooked. He was always a hit and miss player. In the early part of his Arsenal career he would waltz past three defenders and score, laterly he would blaze it over the bar. Right? The thing is, he did it early on too, but the sheer weight of goals, and the messiah effect meant it was missed. The blazed chances or dribbles off the pitch were a part of the settling in, part of sharpening up after not playing in the Russian winter. Except they weren’t. That was his game.
This started to become an issue in his second season. In his first few months he played 90 minutes every game, his patchiness forgiven. In the second year, he was substituted in 16 of his 38 matches in all competitions. He scored 12 and set up nine but the cracks were showing. He wasn’t producing the kind of explosiveness that had marked him out as a star in his first few months. His goals and assists came in ones. In drips. He was doing OK, but he wasn’t playing like a star. But he still had the good grace of the fans, he was still exciting, although increasingly frustrating.
It was the 2010/11 season that pretty much sunk Arshavin’s Arsenal hero status. Arsenal made a sluggish start to the season, not least because Wenger was cautiously resting World Cup finalists Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. In the absence of the star duo there was more emphasis on Arshavin to step up and be the star, but he couldn’t do it. His frustrating misses, bad passes in good areas and more so than anything, questionable work ethic were no longer being overlooked as lovable eccentricities. Arsenal were out of the title race by October after four losses and Arshavin hadn’t stepped up. The pattern of substituting took on almost comical proportions. A seemingly always unfit looking Arshavin was substituted on or off in almost every game. In 36 starts in all competitions he was substituted off 27 times. On top of this, he also came off the bench 16 times.
In other words, Arsene Wenger wanted him to succeed, could see his talents, but he wasn’t delivering. Arsenal fans grew weary of his perceived lack of effort and off field distractions. He couldn’t produce consistently. His penultimate season summed up his ridiculous association with the bench. In 19 league games he came off the bench 11 times and was brought off in seven of his eight starts. He wasn’t producing but Wenger kept giving him chances to. Eventually he was packed off back to Russia.
Andrei Arshavin’s time at Arsenal was defined by his start. If he’d played those first few months as he did the rest of his Arsenal career he’d have been written off after two years. He lived on those early glories and got chance after chance to repeat them, but he couldn’t. He ended up spending more time coming on to or off the bench than he did producing on the field. A lost talent? Or a three month wonder who arrived at right time to become a hero all too quickly?