Andrei Arshavin worthy of more than a peripheral role at Arsenal
Four years ago, Andrei Arshavin’s effervescence made him one of the players of Euro 2008: his performance in Russia’s quarter-final win over Holland was especially exhilarating. When Arsenal signed him the following January, it was to the envy of many other clubs, especially after he scored four goals in one game at Anfield.
It hasn’t quite worked out since. Too often Arshavin has seemed disinterested, lacking fitness, morale and even ingenuity: that is why there was such opprobrium when he came on as a substitute for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Manchester United last month.
While it can’t be denied that Arshavin has disappointed at Arsenal, he has actually done a lot better than widely assumed, contributing 30 goals and 37 assists in 132 games for the club, most of which he has not played all of. These stats can only tell us so much but do compare extremely favourable with his rivals for positions, notably Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky.
In further mitigation of Arshavin’s performances, Arsene Wenger has very seldom given him the chance to play in his best position: as a playmaking number ten. Shafting Arshavin onto the wing is intrinsically limiting, just as it would have been with Dennis Bergkamp. Arshavin’s lack of defensive utility makes it understandable why he hasn’t been used centrally, but ultimately the feeling persists that Wenger has never given the Russian a chance to control games in the way he does for his country.
Now wouldn’t be the worst time to do so: Jack Wilshere remains injured; Aaron Ramsey is fatigued and may be more effective from the bench; and Rosicky creates far too little for a player used as the most attacking of three central midfielders. That Rosicky has contributed one assist and no goals this season is a damning indictment.
Using Arshavin as an attacking central midfielder would be bold and necessitate subtle changes in Arsenal’s style, with their wingers needing to do more defensive work to contribute for his lack of running ability. Yet the gains could be considerable: as the cross for Thierry Henry’s winner against Sunderland attested, the vision and precision of Arshavin’s passing are worthy of more than a peripheral role at Arsenal.
Considering the amount of goals he has either scored or created at Arsenal, the conclusion that Arshavin has received an extraordinary amount of criticism is inescapable. It is undeniable his body language invites it at times. Yes he is not adept at tracking back; yes, he often drifts out of matches. But his talent is such that he should be afforded a genuine opportunity and be deployed in his best position. He might fail, but with faith invested in him Arshavin could yet remind the world of his mesmerising showings in Euro 2008.
For all his faults, Arshavin is more likely to win games for Arsenal than other central attacking options: though he may contribute less defensively than Ramsey and Rosicky, it is a trade off worth taking. Intermittent 20-minute cameos on the left wing will not get the best out of him; regular appearances as a classical number 10 just might.
A year ago Arshavin scored his most memorable goal for the Gunners, a brilliant winner against Barcelona. With Arsenal travelling to Italy to play AC Milan this week, another glamour Champions League tie would be as good a time as any for a resurgence.Tagged in: AC Milan, Andrei Arshavin, Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, Barcelona, Premier League
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