Arshavin Rejoins Zenit: A Tale of his Sad Decline at Arsenal
Every Arsenal fan will forever have lasting memories on that night in Anfield in April 2009.
Rafa Benitez and his Red Army were going through their best Premier League campaign in a while as they fought tooth and nail with Manchester United for Premier League honors. When the Gunners visited Merseyside, football neutrals braced themselves up for what would be an unforgettable night of football.
Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun scored braces for their team, but the star of the night was undoubtedly Arsenal’s red-hot new signing, Andrey Arshavin.
The first goal on the night was from a Cesc Fabregas pass after some good work by Samir Nasri, he worked the second himself after some poor Liverpool defending, his hat-trick was gifted to him on a platter thanks to more atrocious defending from Liverpool and his fourth came from a brilliant counter attack that was started by Theo Walcott.
His four-goal haul was a reminder of what Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal hierarchy had battled hard to get – the undoubted star of Euro 2008 strutting his stuff in the Premier League. In one of the most protracted transfers I can ever remember, the Gunners secured the deal for the Euro 2008 star on the last day of the 2009 winter transfer window.
His debut campaign was regarded as a major success and the fans drooled with the prospect of what was to come in the subsequent seasons. The Gunners were also disappointed to know that he couldn’t be part of their impressive Champions League campaign because he was cup-tied from his involvement with his previous and only club, Zenit St. Petersburg.
Arsenal’s 2008/09 Champions League campaign was one to remember as the Gunners formed an impregnable home record before a painful semifinal home defeat to eternal rivals, Manchester United. In the home games against Porto, Galatasaray and Dynamo Kiev, Arsenal didn’t concede any goal and the trend continued in the knockout phase as Arsenal didn’t concede a home goal against AS Roma (First Knockout Phase) and Villarreal (quarterfinal).
The game against Manchester United was an aberration in every sense of the word as Kieran Gibbs’ infamous slip allowed Park Ji-Sung to score an early goal to extend Manchester United’s aggregate lead to two goals. Cristiano Ronaldo compounded Arsenal’s misery with a free kick from an unfathomable angle and a close finish from a swift counter attack.
After scoring six goals and supplying nine assists in just 15 games for Arsenal, Arshavin came second in Arsenal’s 2009 Player of the Season Poll despite coming in the second half of the campaign. Arsene Wenger, his teammates and most importantly, the fans waited anxiously to see what he could accomplish in a full season with the club.
In his first full season with the club (2009/10 season), Arshavin was tipped for great things and he made a huge statement with his 30-yard stunner against Manchester United in Old Trafford but the Russian’s struggles began when Robin van Persie suffered a terrible ankle injury in a meaningless friendly against Italy.
RvP’s only replacement, Nicklas Bendtner, was nursing an injury as well, so Arsene Wenger was left with no choice but to draft Arshavin into the center forward position. It was believed that the Russian had a foot injury as well, but he played through pain for the good of the team.
While in his newly-found center forward role, Arshavin was failed to adapt, was easily picked on by opposition defenders and he obviously offered no threat whatsoever in the air, but he managed to score vital goals against Stoke, Bolton and Liverpool (in Anfield again) before suffering an injury in Arsenal’s 2-2 first leg encounter with Barcelona at the Emirates.
In the end of his first full season with the club, it was a somewhat productive season for Arshavin, as he scored 12 goals and laid on seven assists in 39 appearances.
The 2010/11 campaign saw Samir Nasri go into full bloom but Arshavin’s place came under threat with Theo Walcott knocking on the door, and as the season progressed the Russian went on a downward spiral as he eventually lost his place to the English speedster. Despite falling out of favor with the manager, the 2010/11 campaign was Arshavin’s best in Arsenal colors statistically as he managed to score 10 goals and supply 17 assists despite some appalling displays as the season progressed.
At the end of the 2010/11 campaign, Arshavin held a meeting with his manager to review his future with the club. Wenger indicated that he would not be considered a first-team regular but was welcome to stay and fight for his place. He took up the invitation but found first-team appearances hard to come by.
As his chances at Arsenal further diminished, his place in the Russian National team was under threat, it became glaring that he needed to play regular football to improve his chances of playing for his country in Euro 2012. His previous employers, Zenit, came with an escape route and he grabbed it with open arms.
In his return to Zenit, Arshavin scored three goals and supplied four assists before earning a place in the Russian team that was paired with Czech Republic, Greece and co-hosts, Poland in Euro 2012. Russia was knocked out thanks to the cruel head-to-head rule but Arshavin sparked up some controversy when he harshly declared that he didn’t care how the fans felt in the wake of Russia’s elimination.
He apologized afterwards but it turned out to be the last straw and the diminutive Russian was stripped off his captaincy and hasn’t featured for Russia since then, leaving him with 17 goals for his nation in 75 appearances.
Last season, Arshavin has become a peripheral figure at Arsenal as he only featured in cup matches and his contributions in the league were few and far between.
His only noteworthy performances in the Premier League were his cross that led to Mikel Arteta’s scrambled finish against Queens Park Rangers and when he was fouled by Sascha Riether for a penalty against Fulham. A usually cool-headed Arteta contrived to miss that one.
When Arshavin was summoned with 15 minutes to go against Chelsea in Stamford Bridge, he put up an appalling performance and that turned out to be his last appearance of any sorts for the club. In 143 games for Arsenal, Andrey Arshavin scored 31 goals and created 42 assists for his teammates in four seasons…three-and-a-half seasons with the club.
While the highest point of his Arsenal career will undoubtedly be his four-goal haul against Liverpool in April 2009, I can’t think of any lower point in his career than that moment when Arsenal fans went berserk when Arsene Wenger brought him on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in January 2012 against Manchester United.
If he had any ounce of confidence left in him, that must have dealt a heavy blow in its own special way.
There was a period when he was regarded as one of the brightest stars in world football but Arshavin’s career is so dark that it’s currently heading into oblivion.
In a strange twist of fate, Zenit St. Petersburg have rolled back the years to sign the attacking midfielder on a two-year contract.
When he leaves this summer, I’ll always remember that technically proficient, blushed cheeked and hobbit-like owl that began his career in the club like a house on fire but plummeted into mediocrity due to his lethargy and lack of work ethic.
It’s still shocking to know that he’s Arsenal’s record signing. It’s fair to say that the Gunners didn’t get their true value for money.
A sad decline indeed.
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