Some eyebrows were raised yesterday amidst reports suggesting that Andrei Arshavin may completely retire from football when his Arsenal contract expires in the summer, and while the midfielder’s fall from grace has been widely documented, there remain some unanswered questions as to how a player once of such quality became so irrelevant at his club.
At 32 years old, it would be a gloomy and early termination of his career for Arshavin, who only a few years ago exuded a cheeky youthfulness to compliment his brilliance on the pitch.
Such is his decline though, it seems easy to forget the man who once won the hearts of gooners far and wide through his blistering performances, exemplified by his infamous four-goal display at Anfield in his first season at Arsenal.
However, in the last two and a half seasons he has become a shadow of his former self.
The Russian arrived in north London in the January window of 2009 in what is still Arsenal’s record transfer at £15million, which signalled a strong intent from manager Arsène Wenger, who was not previously known for buying established players, especially mid-season.
However, Arshavin strutted into the Emirates stadium on the back of having dazzled the world of football with his displays for Russia in Euro 2008. He continued that form to impress at Arsenal, notching up a healthy return of goals and assists in the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons.
He was the type of player who could conjure up a game-changing moment out of nowhere; sharp bursts past defenders and quick, powerful long-range shots were his signature. However, for various reasons his confidence began to drop, and he only managed six league goals in 37 appearances in 2010/11.
His form became gradually worse throughout that season, and game-changing moments turned into sluggish spells and a lacklustre attitude. He began to receive criticism for not endeavouring with his defensive duties, which, coupled with his lack of pace and lethargic work-rate, began to create a negative tone for him at Arsenal.
After a loan spell at former club Zenit in 2012 that never materialised into the permanent move many hoped it would, Arshavin now finds himself frozen out at the Emirates, struggling to make the bench. He was told last summer by Wenger that he was surplus to requirements at Arsenal, but opted to stay on, seemingly happy to collect his £95,000-a-week wages without playing football.
It is a saddening situation considering the potential he showed to be a great earlier in his career. His demise began at around the age of 29, which is a fairly young age to begin a career-ending downturn. While not every player can possess the capacity to carry on late into his thirties like the Ryan Giggs’ of this world, 29 is an age in which you expect an attacking midfielder of quality to still at least be enjoying the tail-end of the crest of his career, and it ponders why this was not the case for Arshavin.
Fingers have been pointed at Wenger’s management of the player, as he consistently played him out on the left, when his natural position is more central in the no.10 role. There are less defensive responsibilities in this role than that of a winger, who must constantly track back and provide their fullbacks with cover – something Arshavin never excelled at.
The issue of not tracking back when playing out wide fairly brought around a lot of criticism from fans, and his growing unpopularity with the Emirates faithful in 2011/12 ran in unison with his decreasing confidence. There were also talks of his poor fitness levels, as he appeared breathless during performances. This did not help his case with Arsenal fans who were becoming increasingly frustrated at the clubs trophy drought.
However, aside from these technical insufficiencies, there is another aspect that possibly added to Arshavin’s plummet – problems in his personal life. It is believed Arshavin split with his wife last year at around the time she gave birth to their third child, suggesting there may have been problems behind closed doors for some time.
A stressful time at home could directly affect form, mood and confidence. Although many footballers have personal issues played out in public that don’t negatively affect their form, this should not be ruled out as a possibility, as everyone’s mentality is unique.
Whatever the reasons for his decline, it is clear his career is certainly over with Arsenal, at the very least. The circumstances in which his time with the Gunners are drawing to a close in are unfortunate, and Arsenal fans are left to wonder what might have been…
Andrei Arshavin, the highlights
Arshavin was instrumental in helping Zenit to a Uefa Cup trophy in 2008, putting in many excellent performances, and was named Man of the Match in the Uefa Cup final. Arshavin continued his excellent form into the 2008 European Championships, dazzling spectators with his tricky dribbling and close control, and was named in the team of the tournament.
On the April 21st 2009, Andrei Arshavin scored 4 goals in a Man of the Match performance against league leaders Liverpool in a match that ended 4-4.
On February 16th 2011, Arshavin finished off a great team goal on the break to give Arsenal a 2-1 win over Barcelona in a magical night at the Emirates.
Andrei Arshavin, the lowlights
By the 2011-2012 season, Arshavin’s contribution at Arsenal had become mostly limited to substitute performance and were mired by a perceived lack of enthusiasm and match fitness. On the 22nd of January 2012, Wenger’s decision to bring Arshavin on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was booed by the Arsenal fans, and Arshavin’s unwillingness to track back and defend subsequently helped lead to Welbeck’s winning goal for Manchester United.