The Russian Redemption

This piece first featured on SabotageTimes.com (link).

As Arsenal drifted closer to their last North London derby, they were in a considerably worse state than they are now. Trailing Tottenham by 10 points, the general mood was something disgruntled, to say the least. In the week between their FA Cup loss to Sunderland and the derby, Andrey Arshavin was loaned to Zenit St. Petersburg; an incident which many thought spelled the end of his time at Arsenal. He won the Russian league, captained his nation at EURO 2012 and returned to the club.

 

They sought a taker for their now unwanted record signing. Any hint of one was non-existent until the final few days of the window. He was offered to Zenit and Dinamo Moscow on a free transfer, but Arshavin himself turned down both moves, with Zenit’s General Director citing a mysterious “condition” as the reason for its falling through. So Arsenal were stuck with him. Considering their thin squad, some felt that this could end up proving more blessing than curse.

 

He remained near-totally ignored, only making the bench twice, appearing just once, in the season’s opener at home to Sunderland before the League Cup third round game against Coventry, which he started. He scored a goal and made two assists in an extremely impressive showing. But it was not enough to earn him a place in the side again; he did not feature until the 1-0 loss at Norwich, in which he was introduced to replaced the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

 

The 19 year old’s injury moved Arshavin closer to the team; he has had a role in five of the six games, but only starting the League Cup insanity against Reading. Given that his introduction has represented a last, desperate throw of the dice, he has done very well. He was instrumental in creating Mikel Arteta’s late winner in the QPR game, looked like Arsenal’s only potential threat when sent on at Old Trafford and won the penalty which Arteta failed to convert in the 3-3 draw with Fulham. In between all this was another excellent League Cup performance; he provided three assists, as well as having a goal-bound shot blocked on the line before Theo Walcott finished it off. Within the insanity that was the game, Arshavin could be seen working extremely hard, even to the point of actually sprinting(!), right until the 120th minute.

 

Much of the frustration with him grew from his work ethic, or lack thereof. He was never one for charging up and down the line, covering defensively or working much at all. When he was at his most efficient, this was little problem; but when his form began to wane as the 2010/11 season wound down, it started really adversely affecting the team. His fitness has always been an issue and for this reason it is a risk to start him, especially while Kieran Gibbs is injured and Arsenal need all the protection they can get for whoever is playing at left back.

 

Though he has the ability that no other Arsenal player does to create chances with little space available. Santi Cazorla looks fairly jaded even now, only a few months into his Premier League career and is struggling with being the only true creative presence in the Arsenal team of late while Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere have been injured or recovering match fitness. From the bench he gives Arsenal another outlet.

 

His ability had never deserted him, but his motivation had. He does not quite look a reformed character but he does seem to be trying harder in his cameos. It was his choice to stay and he appears to want to prove himself again. The tedious debate on whether he should play centrally is not valid: he rarely drops deep to aid possession play and this could only be accounted for if Arsenal played two holding midfielders behind him, as opposed to a holder and a more box-to-box type.

 

He is in the final year of his contract and barring some sort of super-heroic effort he is highly unlikely to be renewed. Until the season’s end, he is Arsenal’s, and if his recent games are anything to go by, it might be worth giving him more chances in the team.

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