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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Arsenal: Will Arshavin ever regain his form at the Emirates?

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When Arsene Wenger splashed the cash for Russian star Andrei Arshavin in February 2009 the Arsenal fans were delirious. The versatile attacking midfielder had been winning rave reviews for his endeavours at Zenit St Petersburg and for the national side and it was only a matter of time before he joined a major European club. With rivals Spurs also interested in signing him, Arsenal fans were pleased not only to sign one of the best players outside of mainland Europe, but also to get one over those at the Lane.

However, the dream move has not really become a reality and over the past 12 months his commitment to the cause has been questioned repeatedly. This week former Arsenal legend George Graham spoke out, claiming that Arshavin has been a poor buy. Manager Arsene Wenger of course has come out and defended his man – you wouldn’t expect anything else – but the Frenchman is fully aware that Arshavin has failed to perform for the Gunners recently.

So it begs the questions; Will Arshavin ever regain his form for Arsenal?

Arshavin came to prominence while playing for Zenit St Petersburg. Clips of his mercurial talent were posted all over the internet and fans of Premier League clubs were desperate to see him in their colours. His low centre of gravity, sublime dribbling skills, fierce shot and bear-like strength wowed spectators and it looked like he had everything needed to survive in the Premier League.

Arsenal were linked with him for a long time and finally got their man, in typical Wenger fashion, late on in the final day of the transfer window. He made his Arsenal debut against Sunderland and could have opened his account twice. Unfortunately the stubborn Black Cats held on for a goalless draw. Six week after arriving in England, Arshavin scored his first goal for the Gunners against Blackburn Rovers, a game in which they won 4-0. He soon doubled his tally with a strike against Wigan.

It was all starting to look good for the Russian. He was getting the fans off their seats with his driving runs and precision passing and the goals were coming too. However, it was a game against Liverpool at Anfield that really made the world stand up. The two giants of the English game played out an eight-goal thriller, with the little Russian scoring all four for the visitors. He became the first player since Wolves’ Dennis Westcott in 1946 to score four goals at Anfield and the sixth in Premier League history to score four away from home.

Arshavin and Arsenal looked like being a match made in heaven. The fans voted him Player of the Month, he captained the side against Portsmouth in May and came second in a Player of the Season poll.

However, all that is a far cry from his current displays in an Arsenal shirt. Over the past year or so, Arshavin has been a shadow of his former self. Whereas before he would take players on and supply a crisp ball into the heart of the box, now he is most likely to get tackled before he’s even got into second gear. Whereas before he could control a ball with ease, now he lets the ball slip under his feet. And whereas before he would make himself available for the ball in attacking areas of the pitch, now he waits by the halfway line to receive the ball.

His form has dipped so low that you have to wonder just what is happening to him. Has he become disillusioned with the recent comings and goings at Arsenal? Has he fallen out of love with the game or Arsenal? Or has Arshavin lost faith in the manager? Whatever it is, one thing is for sure, Arshavin is not the same player that arrived here almost three years ago.

Arshavin is now 30 years old. He is one of the most experienced players in the Arsenal dressing room yet the most disappointing feature of his game is not setting an example to the youngsters coming through. If I was in his situation I think I’d be there rolling up my sleeves, taking responsibility for the team and guiding the new boys through games. However, during that 8-2 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United, I lost count of the amount of times he lost the ball and made no attempt to win it back. It was simply embarrassing to watch.

Whether Arsene Wenger has had a word with Arshavin about his commitment or not I don’t know. Maybe the Frenchman is too scared to say anything in case Arshavin joins Nasri and Fabregas out of the club. However, at this moment in time I don’t think there are too many Arsenal fans who would shed a tear over Arshavin’s departure. Despite giving Arsenal fans a song to sing, his four goals at Anfield and the winner against Barcelona last season, I can’t think of too much else Arshavin has given the team.

The little Russian is a great character. His facial expressions during a game can be comical and his Ask Andrei column on his website is legendary. However, does he want to be remembered as clown prince or a top footballer? Unless he rediscovers his form soon Arshavin could well be up there with the likes of Jose Antonio Reyes, Francis Jeffers and Eddie McGoldrick.

Calling all Arsenal fans. Do you think Arshavin will ever rediscover his form at Arsenal? Do you agree with George Graham that Arshavin has been a poor buy? Why do you think there has been such a dip in his displays in recent months? What has been the most disappointing part of his displays recently? How many of you would be willing to let him leave in the January window? Whatever your view, we’d love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth



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