I want to break from all the usual RVP nonsense (and Theo Walcott rumours, which I have yet to properly address) and centre on a player who I think, given the proper motivation, could be an excellent retention for Arsenal.
Andrey Arshavin endured an absolutely miserable 2012, as far as Arsenal is concerned. The year has produced a Russian title while he was on loan to Zenit, and a few starring performances for his country in the Euro group stage, but as far as AA23-Arsenal-version is concerned, it was six months to forget.
The goals had dried up, the fans were openly mutinous and Wenger looked to have lost total faith in the midfielder. Such was the paucity of belief in the Russian’s form that he found himself beneath the 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the pecking order.
In the fans’ eyes, the dye had been cast pretty emphatically over Arshavin. He was finished as an Arsenal player, for a various reasons: Arsene had lost faith; Arsene kept playing him in the wrong position; the player wasn’t prepared to work hard in defence; the player just didn’t seem to care.
Most of these accusations have some merit. What I think we can all agree on is, as a result of at least some of these factors, Arshavin was a thoroughly discouraged player. His loan move to Zenit was as much about securing his place in the Russian national squad as it was a temporary reprieve from his personal piece of hell in north London.
Andrey’s general disenchantment means the rumours linking him with a permanent transfer back to Zenit, or even Galatasaray (a reunion with Emmanuel Eboue!) are pretty reasonable. But what if Wenger could pull a motivational rabbit out of the hat and somehow get Arshavin onside again?
I always feel the criticism of playing Arshavin on the left rather than his ‘preferred in-the-hole position’ is well off the mark. Many of those critics will wax lyrical about other stars of the game, saying ‘a good player can play anywhere’, and Arshavin has proven an adaptable asset for the Gunners in his years spent with us.
He arrived here as an attacking central midfielder but it was apparent to all that he’d be thrown in on the wing, and he took to the position like a duck to water. Don’t believe me? Four goals against Liverpool at Anfield. Bam. Right in the kisser.
A stunning goal against Blackburn. A thumper against Man United. Another at Anfield. That goal against Barcelona. All coming from the wing, cutting in.
Once he lost form as badly as he did, the old arguments of him playing in the wrong position resurfaced again. Yet once he headed back to Zenit, won the Russian league and then got back into the national side, he caused a brief stir at the Euros.
Not from central midfield, but from the wing.
Fact is, he’s become just as capable from there as he ever was through the middle. So it’s never been about positions, it’s been about confidence. If Wenger could give that back to him, I’d happily keep him for another season.
Except it will not happen, because of the headline reason: workplace politics.
I might be based in Australia, but I do have a decent source on this topic at least. I’m informed that Arshavin is simply not liked by the dominant clique in the Arsenal dressing room.
If you’ve ever been in a job where even one individual outwardly doesn’t get on with you, it can make your working life absolute hell.
Ashley Cole once famously blurted his paperback opinions about the French clique at the club, which was responsible for Jose Antonio Reyes’s miserable time several seasons ago.
The clique is a little less French these days, but now it’s Arshavin that is the latest victim. The manager often cops abuse for playing him out of position, or for that fateful FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea where Abou Diaby started ahead of him, but it seems the problems lie at a much deeper level.
The players don’t fancy him, the crowd vocally opposed his substitution against United, and it all looks bleak for the little Russian genius.
It’s important to remember that that’s exactly what Arshavin is. But as with so many unpredictable things in footballing life, even his dazzling star dulled for Arsenal after such a mesmerising start.
EDIT: This video might be good for a bit of a twist ending, or additional context.