After Andrey Arshavin had completed his first half-season at Arsenal, few could imagine that in just three years he would be regarded as one of the most frustrating players ever to ply their trade at the club.
He is undoubtedly capable of brilliance, we know this from that day at Anfield, the shot against Man United, the cross for a certain Thierry Henry to poach the winner against Sunderland, and of course the coolness and composure to slot home against Barcelona. Unfortunately these moments have been too few and far between.
Since January he has been experiencing life back at his old club, Zenit St Petersburg. Media reports indicate that he’s returning to his form of old, whilst his performance during Euro 2012 simply gave more credence to this claim. The 31-year-old Russian only played three games, yet topped the assists chart alongside David Silva, Mesut Ozil and Steven Gerrard.
The question, as always, is “can he still do it for Arsenal?”
It’s a difficult one. Even when his popularity was declining in the 2010/2011 season, the only Arsenal player with more assists than the little Russian was Cesc Fabregas. In fact he managed both more goals and assists in that season, than Theo Walcott managed in the 2011/2012 campaign just passed.
So he’s certainly still got the ability. However as a fan you like to see your players putting in a proper shift week in week out. That is one of the reasons players like Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky have earned so much praise over the season, they work incredibly hard for the team. Even Walcott could be seen up and down the flanks, providing defensive cover when needed. The problem is, that’s not Arshavin’s strong point.
His unwillingness to track back simply doesn’t fit into the Arsenal team which has developed over the course of the past season. Plus there’s the issue of where to play him. Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Walcott and Gervinho are all currently above him in the pecking order. Arshavin’s favourite position as a creative force in the centre is also unlikely to be available to him. As we saw after Arteta got injured for the final stretch, we need two box-to-box centre midfielders, the sort of which Jack Wilshere is a perfect example of. With his return, and with it a greater creative threat, it is unlikely Arshavin could look forward to any regular first team football, which is exactly what he needs.
It would seem the most likely eventuality for him is a return back home to Zenit, whether via another loan or by transfer. Either way Arsenal shouldn’t expect much financial return on their £15m.