If the narrative that’s underpinned Andrey Arshavin’s career at Arsenal is one of frustration and beleaguering mystery, then the resolution could ultimately be one of tragedy, following the news that the Russian is contemplating hanging up his boots at the end of the Premier League season.
Only five years after he had the world at his feet following his awe-inspiring performances during Euro 2008 and aged only 31-years-of-age, recent reports have suggested that the former Zenit man is seriously considering the prospect of retirement when his current deal with the Gunners expires at the end of June.
The initial outpouring of emotion from the wider footballing public towards Arshavin, however, seems to have been one of scorn.
The Russian’s career doesn’t hang in the balance at the hands of injury, nor does it find itself coming to a close towards anything approaching financial pain should he choose to retire; Arshavin is reported to earn around £95,000-a-week.
Whereas we’ve seen footballers who loved the game beyond measure, such as Dean Ashton and Fabrice Muamba, have their careers taken from them in their mid-twenties, Arshavin seems to be wasting away his outrageous gifts without much of a care in the world. And it’s within that notion of care that you’ll find the epicentre of the majority of fans’ disdain towards him.
Because following his club record £15million move to the Emirates Stadium in 2009, it simply wasn’t supposed to end like this.
After announcing himself on the world-scene with a string of magnificent performances for his country at Euro 2008, Arshavin dazzled supporters following his move to north London a little over six months down the track.
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Technically gifted, a wonderful dribbler of the ball and a seemingly unstoppable force when running at speed, the little Russian showed exactly why the likes of Barcelona had battled for his signature following his exploits in Austria and Switzerland.
Despite only playing half a season with the club, Arshavin came runner-up in the voting for Arsenal’s player of the season award, following a blockbuster introduction to English football that saw him notch up seven assists and score seven goals in little over 12 games; four efforts of which came in the now infamous 4-4 draw away to Liverpool, where Arshavin became the first player since Dennis Westcott in 1946 to score a quartet at Anfield.
Far from being the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he had to offer the club, sadly that outstanding effort on Merseyside proved to be the zenith of Arshavin’s Arsenal career. Understandably, after eking out only four-and-a-half months consistent service from a four-and-a-half year deal, supporters are well within their right to lambaste a player who should have produced so, so much more for the sort of money the club had shelled out for.
Although while the buck ultimately stops with Arshavin and nobody else for his lacklustre time in North London, how much can fans really demonize a player whose fate was in no small part catalyzed by a manager who simply never believed in his record signing?
Arshavin has not been without his failings at the Emirates Stadium. If all flair players tend to bestow the footnote of ‘drifting in and out of games,’ then Arshavin’s must surely come with an asterisk beside it.
Too many times the Russian has worn the look of a man disillusioned enough with his football that the basic work ethic simply hasn’t been in attendance and for those paying their hard-earned money to watch their side play, Gunners fans have been well within their right to throw their share of stick his way.
Although if Arshavin has remained firmly in the line of fire from Arsenal supporters over the last couple of years, then Arsene Wenger has played his own part in helping him over the trench and straight into no-mans-land.
The common argument that Arshavin’s woes have stemmed from being played out of position are often batted away as the stuff of urban myth and even for those that do go along with the tactical failings that the Russian has endured, the common argument is that he should have done better under the circumstances.
But should he really have done better?
Andrey Arshavin spent his entire career at Zenit ghosting in and out of games, expertly finding space and picking the right time to expose the failings of opposition defences throughout games. Industrious defensive work, sustained deliveries from out wide and the bread-and-butter elements of the traditional winger has never been in his attacking remit.
Yet for the vast majority of his Arsenal career, this is the role that he’s been asked to play. Has he been totally bereft of the opportunity to play as a No10? Not entirely, no and even on the rare occasions we have seen him play centrally, rarely have we been treated to a performance of the calibre he once used to produce as par for the course.
But Andrey Arshavin’s biggest failure at Arsenal hasn’t been this perceived lack of care for the badge of some form of showing of contempt for the club that pays his wages. The biggest crime he’s been guilty of is not being someone that he isn’t.
Regardless of what fate now lies ahead for Arshavin at the end of the season, the book should have closed on his Arsenal career a long time ago.
His wage demands, decreasing stock and reported reluctance to play below a level he is now surely destined for, have all played a part in ensuring interest ‘couldn’t be colder,’ from other clubs. But although the blame for his demise must lie in his lap, it’s been a two way street from the outset, however Wenger wishes to frame it.
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