Arshavin: the little Russian that Couldn’t?

It was the January transfer saga of 2009.  And it only got better with his 4 goal game AT Anfield.  The little Russian Arshavin seemed to be the final piece of Arsene’s puzzle.  Wily, quick, a veteran and captain of a big national team, Arshavin brought the guile and attitude Arsenal seemed to so desperately need, not to mention his ability to score goals.  Expectations for the 2009 campaign were unimaginably high for his first full season as a Gunner, but it didn’t quite come to pass.  And now, solidly into the 2010 season, the little Russian that could, seems to be the little Russian that can’t.  A fan favorite for his unfiltered commentary and often incoherent discourse with fans, Arshavin put it best when he said he’d “lost his sparkle.”  So what happened?  Is it time for the St. Petersburg Express to move on?

is easy this EPL...

Arshavin could be excused if he thought the EPL was easy when he first joined.  After all, it only took him a few games to get onto the scoreboard.  And then, of course, there’s the Anfield Experience, where he wrote a chapter in the EPL history books in an instant classic.  At the time, the little Russian played with a magic and energy that was unstoppable. His left footed for a fourth goal came at the end of an adrenaline rage that saw Arsahvin chase down Walcott’s run in the 89 minute.

What happened?

If statistics tell a story, Arshavin’s tell two.

two hobbits?

The first story describes a workhorse, a player involved in 15 games in his first season when he joined halfway through the campaign, 39 appearances in total last year and all 10 to date so far this year.  He played with injuries and he played out of position. And, for a player Wikipedia lists as 5′ 7.5″ (172 cm) -on a good hair day, no way is he that tall  -playing a target striker in the EPL is downright dangerous.  This is a man that plays through pain and loves the game.  Doing whatever his team needs to win.  This sacrifice might explain why in 39 appearances Arshavin only scored 12 goals and had 6 assists.

Which takes us to the second part of the Arshavin story, goals and assists.

Goals and assists are not the only thing a player provides, but unfortunately, they are the most obvious.  This Arshavin’s stats are already threatening last year as well.  In 10 appearances, he’s put in 5 goals and already equalized last year’s assists, with 6.  For many players that’s their entire season.  But most players are not the dynamo from St. P.

Sure he creates a lot of chances. But anyone watching him can and should be concerned that his return rate this year for the opportunities he’s had are not up to par.

Yet generally, all seems right in the Arshavin world, besides the fact that women are allowed to drive.  Still, watching him play, Arshavin seems to have lost his rhythm of the game.  For instance, the missed penalty shot at Partizan was more shocking for being lackluster, and his response (standing still, not following up) not for the miss itself.

A player’s career can be ended by many things, injuries, age, too much money, partying or even just a general loss of interest.  But none of these seems to apply to Arshavin; he doesn’t seem to have lost his pace or trickery.  In fact, he thinks his football “is more effective”; the problem, as he put it, is that he “doesn’t remember the last time [he] scored a really beautiful goal.”  And that is a problem.  He hasn’t.

Arshavin is a pure goal scorer.  A delight to watch by fans because of the beautiful goals he scores, often within small spaces.  But recently his over the crossbar, too wide of the posts and runs that end at the goal line are becoming painfully consistent.  An unnatural child that combines elements of of Clichy and Eboue.  At some point, one has to wonder if he’s hurting the team by taking the ball and playing time away from other players.

Perhaps it was the way the little engine began his career in the EPL that set the standard so high.  Now that other teams know to mark him, he’s lost the ability to surprise.  Or maybe he just isn’t happy in London?  Neither answer seems to satisfy.  Arshavin’s too much of a professional and a competitor.  Rather, Arshavin seems to share Nasri’s problem: too often he plays out of his natural position.  Instead of playing his favored all out attacking style, Arsenal’s style is asking him to do too much.  Arshavin was never a natural defender, he’s more ballet dancer than club bouncer.  But Arsenal requires playing team defense in a way that takes away from his game.

Certainly every team requires all players to play defense, but certain styles require attacking players to do less.  Think of the system at Real Madrid, it gives Ronaldo, Di Maria, Higuain and Ozil more freedom to attack.  For Arshavin, cherry picking and pressuring the ball up high is where he prefers to play.  Go back and take a look at the four goals he scored (that first video up above).  Besides being cannons for shots, notice how Arshavin scored at Anfield:

  • Goal 1 -sneaks into the penalty box after Nasri and Fab pressure
  • Goal 2 -sneaks up on a bad pass
  • Goal 3 -placement, again, in the penalty box
  • Goal 4 -Walcott picks it up and Arshavin makes a mad dash unmarked

Now he just seems too tired to make that magical move at the end of a movement.  He can string two maybe even three moments together, but the final magical touch eludes him.  Most of us can barely put together two moments consistently.  This must be killing him.

Without a doubt, should Arshavin leave, the fans would be heartbroken.  And, for a team that is normally so quiet, even too respectful at times, the personality of the Russian maestro provides welcome relief, if not fodder for journalists, blogs and the twitter-verse.  No doubt the Arseblog podcast would suffer the most.

But for the little engine to make it, some bigger changes on the team might have to take place to get over the mountain.

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