About a week ago I received a request from @russianfooty on Twitter asking me to write a piece about Andrei Arshavin’s career at the club. With the Russian’s days at the club seemingly numbered, now wouldn’t be a bad time to look back and reflect on Andrei’s time at the club.
First of all, I will tell you all about how I first discovered Arshavin. It’s a funny story really. A couple of years before he signed, probably around 2007, I was playing Football Manager on my PC. I was managing Arsenal and just browsing through players really. I came across Arshavin and liked the name, purely for the chuckle it produced at first sight. His statistics weren’t bad at all on the game and with me being the fantastic manager I am, I sent my scouts out to check him out in Russia. I liked what I saw and I signed him up for a hefty fee. After Arshavin started banging in goals for fun on this game, I actually wanted to check him out in real life. So Wikipedia was my friend and told me everything I needed to know about him. I then searched Youtube for clips of him in action and I must admit, I was impressed. I’m fairly sure you could make me look like a great player if you Youtubed my finest moments on a football pitch, but he did seem to look pretty good.
So after that I thought nothing of it really. That was until 2008. I remember waking up one morning and my Dad telling me “did you watch the football highlights last night?”. I told him I didn’t because they were on late at night. Then he enthusiastically went on to tell me about how Zenit St. Petersburg had gone on to destroy Bayern Munich in the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and that they looked an extremely good side with a really good player called Arshavin. My mind sent me back to him scoring goals on Football Manager for me and my interest grew. I watched Zenit destroy Bayern on the highlights and then saw them beat Rangers 2-0 in the Final with Arshavin playing very well.
Not long after that Final, the European Championships took place. My country, England had failed to qualify for the tournament, so my interest in it at the start really wasn’t there. However, football is football, so I did end up watching the majority of the tournament anyway. One team that caught my eye in particular were Russia. Russia had Arshavin and they also had a striker called Roman Pavlyuchenko. Those two were in my eyes, the best players in the tournament and were a joy to watch throughout. Unfortunately at the semi-finals stage they were knocked out by eventual winners Spain and both Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko disappointed in that game.
So after starring in Zenit’s UEFA Cup triumph and playing a huge part in Russia’s European Championships, Arshavin was unsurprisingly targeted by other teams in Europe. Barcelona had a €15m bid rejected by Zenit in the summer of 2008 and Tottenham saw their £16m bid fall short of Zenit’s £22m asking price. I liked Arshavin and I wanted him at Arsenal. However, the chances of Arsenal coughing up £22m for one player seemed very unlikely at the time.
Arshavin had made it clear that he wanted to leave Zenit, but no clubs were willing to meet their valuation, so the Russian had to stay with Zenit until at least January. The other star of the Russian side in 2008, Roman Pavlyuchenko, was signed by Tottenham in the summer transfer window of 2008 from Spartak Moscow. Spurs had planned to sign both Pavlyuchenko and Arshavin, hoping the two would combine at White Hart Lane as well as they did in the European Championships that year.
When Arsenal were struggling in the 2008/09 campaign, Arsenal needed somebody to come in and inject some confidence and belief into the team. Only a world class signing would do the trick, no short-term fixes, somebody that would cost a fair chunk of money and change the season. The media firmly believed that Andrei Arshavin was that man. He was linked to Arsenal in the summer of 2008, but nothing happened. The media still ran stories on Arshavin to Arsenal pretty well from the end of December until the final day of the winter window in February 2009.
Transfer Deadline Day in the January 2009 window was very exciting to say the least. I remember staying up the night before to watch the Super Bowl well into the early hours of the morning, so had managed to secure the day off of school after haggling with my parents. However, the weather forecast suggested snow the next day throughout Britain. When I went to bed that night, I looked out of the window and saw that we had a decent amount of snow on the ground, but the snow had stopped. Whether it was enough to cancel school the next day or not was something I would find out whenever I woke up. I actually woke up about 9 – 9:30am that day, so I really didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. However, when I heard my mum talking on the phone around that time, I knew that school was off that day and I didn’t have to even have to skive off. The ultimate dream. Get to watch the Super Bowl and being able to watch Deadline Day without a care in the world.
So after waking up, I turned on the television to Sky Sports News and was delighted to see that Arshavin was in London, staying in a hotel in snowy London (I bet he felt at home, being from Russia and surrounded with snow!!!). All that was left for this deal to happen was for Arsenal and Zenit to agree on a fee. Arshavin wanted to join Arsenal and a contract was going to be agreed and a medical was passed too, so it was down to the two clubs to agree on a fee. Rumours came through that Arshavin was heading back to Russia because the deal had hit a snag, but late on deadline day, Zenit finally accepted an offer to make Arshavin Arsenal’s most expensive signing ever, for a fee believed to be around £15m. The snow in Britain made the FA put the transfer deadline back a day so that deals could get done. Players getting across the country in time was difficult due to the large amount of snow across Britain. The deal wasn’t done on deadline day, but on the 3rd February 2009, Arshavin was confirmed as an Arsenal player on Arsenal.com and Zenit released a statement on their website saying that the deal was done and that the FA had sent them confirmation that Arshavin was registered as an Arsenal player.
Arshavin was interviewed on Sky Sports News outside the Emirates amongst Arsenal fans and said the words “Now I am Gooner” which made him popular amongst fans instantly. Arshavin took the number 23 shirt, last worn by Sol Campbell at the club. The Russian made his debut in a 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland, but showed flashes of his class and impressed throughout the game. His first major contribution was an assist for Kolo Toure from a free-kick in a 3-1 win at The Hawthorns in early March, before scoring his first goal for the club on the 14th March in a 4-0 win over Blackburn Rovers. It was a superb solo goal and from a tight angle too.
Arshavin’s finest moment in an Arsenal shirt came in April 2009 at Anfield. The Russian scored four stunning goals in a memorable 4-4 draw against Liverpool. This was definitely the highest point in his career at the club and gave me great optimism for a full season of the Russian in 2009/10. He won the Player of the Month award in the Barclays Premier League for April 2009 as well as the Arsenal.com one too. He was runner-up in the Player of the Season poll, despite having only been at the club for 3 months. At the end of the 2008/09 season, things looked very rosy for Arsenal with Arshavin in the team.
The Russian showed in pre-season what Arsenal fans wanted to see from him throughout the 2009/10 season, scoring two goals in the 2-1 Emirates Cup win over Atletico Madrid. Having played for Zenit in the Champions League in 2008/09, he was cup-tied after joining Arsenal half way through that season. That meant his first Champions League goal for the club came in August 2009 in a 3-1 win over Scottish club Celtic. Later that month he put Arsenal 1-0 up at Old Trafford in a game they’d go on to lose 2-1 to Manchester United, but Arshavin’s goal was a screamer.
Arshavin saved his best for Anfield for the second year in a row, scoring the winner in a 2-1 win as Arsenal came from behind to beat Liverpool in the Premier League. His goal helped secure a 4-2 win over Bolton in January 2010, as Arsenal went top of the league and aimed to end their 5 year trophy drought.
An injury suffered against Barcelona in the Champions League ruled him out until May, but the Russian returned against Fulham on the final day, scoring in a 4-0 win over their London rivals and securing third place in the league, finishing above North London rivals Spurs yet again.
Arshavin started the 2010/11 season in fine form. He scored his first goal of the season from the penalty spot in a 6-0 win over newly promoted Blackpool at the Emirates. He then scored the winning goal in the next game against Blackburn Rovers in a 2-1 win. I remember watching the first few games of the 2010/11 season and noticing something different about Arshavin. First of all, he gave the ball away a lot more than he did before. Secondly, he was a lot lazier than he had been in the past season. He always showed desire to win the ball back and get Arsenal going, but he seemed very lazy, especially in the opening game of the season against Liverpool. His goals and assists rate was fantastic though, so from that side, you couldn’t really complain.
The following month saw Arshavin score once and provide two assists as Arsenal thrashed Braga 6-0 in the Champions League group stages. He rounded off Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Tottenham in the League Cup with the final goal in extra-time at White Hart Lane. He had mixed success against Partizan Belgrade as he scored in the 3-1 win away from home, but also saw a penalty saved in the same game.
That was where the goals started to slow up for Arshavin. His next goal came against Aston Villa in a 4-2 win at Villa Park in late November. A month later he scored in a 2-2 draw away to Wigan and won the Man of the Match award for that game from Arsenal fans. He scored his first goal since December on February 1st 2011 in a 2-1 win against Everton, coming off the bench to help Arsenal come from a goal behind against the Toffees.
His second finest moment in a Gunners shirt came in the same month. Arsenal faced Barcelona in the Champions League. To stand any chance of progressing, they needed to win at home. Things weren’t going well when David Villa put Barcelona in front 26 minutes in. However, when Robin Van Persie levelled the scores in the 78th minute, Arsenal had a chance to steal the win. A lovely counter attack by Arsenal was rounded off by Arshavin giving Arsenal a precious lead as the Emirates erupted with joy. One of the best nights in the stadium’s short history and Arshavin will always be remembered as the man that scored that goal.
Arsenal failed to win the League Cup in 2011, despite playing a strong side in the Final against Birmingham. Arshavin started the Final and was replaced by Marouane Chamakh with just over 10 minutes to play as Arsene Wenger tried to boost his attack with an extra striker in hopes of killing the game off and avoiding extra-time. However, in the final minute, a mistake at the back allowed Obafemi Martins the chance to break Arsenal hearts and win the cup for Birmingham. Arsenal’s trophy drought continued and Arshavin still hadn’t won a trophy with the club.
Arsenal’s form dipped after the League Cup Final loss and lost the second leg of their Champions League tie with Barcelona, lost an FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United and fell out of the title race too. Arshavin did find the net against West Brom, helping Arsenal come from 2-0 down to salvage a 2-2 draw, scoring one and providing an assist for Robin Van Persie’s equaliser.
Arsenal’s poor form continued into the new campaign, having lost many players over the summer, the most important ones being Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Manchester City. Arshavin featured in the side that lost 8-2 to Manchester United at Old Trafford, but helped the Gunners get back to winning ways in their next game, a 1-0 win over newly promoted Swansea. Arshavin was gifted a goal by Michel Vorm and Arsenal claimed a much needed 3 points thanks to that goal.
However, his performances for the majority of the 2011/12 campaign were not good enough. His laziness and refusal to track back and defend played a big part in this, plus he didn’t offer the attacking threat that he once had. This was highlighted in a game in January 2012 against Manchester United when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was replaced by Arshavin. Chamberlain had played fantastically throughout and was man of the match. The decision to take him off was not greeted at all well by the Arsenal fans, who booed the decision. Arshavin had been woefully out of form and the sub made no sense. Then captain Robin Van Persie even looked to his boss in disbelief.
This sparked rumours of a return to Russia and Zenit confirmed their interest in signing Arshavin back. His final act in an Arsenal shirt before leaving on loan was providing an assist for club legend Thierry Henry, who scored his final goal for the club with a late winner at Sunderland in February 2012.
Arshavin signed on loan for Zenit until the end of the season because he wanted to represent his country at Euro 2012. Arshavin helped Zenit to the Russian title with 3 goals in 11 appearances at his boyhood club.
Many people expected Arshavin to leave Arsenal in the summer of 2012. He came on as a 77th minute sub against Sunderland on the opening game of the 2012/13 campaign, to many people’s surprise. He scored his first goal of the season in a 6-1 League Cup win against Coventry City in September 2012. He made his 100th Premier League appearance for the club in a 1-0 defeat to Norwich earlier this season.
What next for Arshavin?. He is likely to either see out his contract at the club (I don’t know when it expires) or leave in January / next summer. He makes the odd appearance here and there and I was impressed with him in the League Cup game at Reading in October too, but considering he is on high wages, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was to leave in January. Reading have shown an interest and Zenit will always show interest. He is to them what Thierry Henry is to Arsenal it seems, we can’t say no to him, he’s a legend.