Oct 27, 2010

The Unheralded Genius of Andrei Arshavin

By Gregor Vasconcelos

13 games. 5 goals. 6 assists. How can someone with those numbers be so criticized? That is the story of Andrei Arshavin.

The Arsenal fans have one of the most gifted players in the Premier League in their ranks, but for some reason, a large part of the fans (at least a very vocal "minority") has been hugely critical of the diminutive Winger's form so far this season (and the previous one for that matter).

Originally a central attacking midfilder, Arshavin has been shunted out to the left for the Gunners, as Cesc Fabregas is the player that Arsene Wenger has built his team around has that role. As a consequence of this, the Russian doesn't see as much of the ball as he would like during a match and finds it hard to have a major influence in his team's play.

The main criticism directed at Arshavin is that he doesn't work hard enough and that he fails to make a significant impact and take the games by the scruff of its neck in the absense of Fabregas.

The latter has been previously explained, it is understandable that Gooners want to see their record signing get on the ball more and show his flashes of genius in a more consistent basis. However, even when Fabregas is out the side, Wenger tends to opt for Samir Nasri or young Jack Wilshere in the CAM position, thus Arshavin rarely gets to play where he likes. About his work rate, he has always been this sort of player and Arsenal were well aware of that when they signed him. Even when he was getting praises from all sides, his work rate wasn't that incredible. I do however, think that he does work as hard as he can for the team and that is often overlooked.

Throughout last season, he was forced to play as a lone striker due to the amount of injuries Arsenal had accumulated by December. Playing with his back to goal didn't suit him at all, with his build he was unable to hold the ball up, but regardless of that, he tried his hardest and actually had a decent run. After an excelent display at Stoke and a brilliant winner at Anfield, Arshavin remained centralized and despite a slight goal drought, did very well, getting a number of assists in the process as he helped Arsenal reach the summit of the Premier League by the end of January. His movement off the ball was very impressive in the way that it helped open up defences and create spaces for the incoming midfielders, but since this aspect of the game is severely overlooked by many, people just saw Arshavin as a frustrated figure, that got little of the ball and didn't do much to change that. At the time, he was also carrying an injury and had to keep on playing as he was Arsenal's only option and didn't want to hide away from his responsibilities. That attitude has to be commended, but for some reason, Arsenal fans just seemed to overlook it. As soon as Bendtner got back into the side, Arshavin picked up his form again and was crucial in a number of games that saw Arsenal keep their title challange on track up until he got injured in the Champions League.

At Arsenal, he has never been the player to be on the ball all the time, as that is very difficult for someone playing in a wide position. Even in his early days, when Arsenal fans fell in love with him, he wasn't like that. In his 4 goal flurry at Anfield, he must have touched the ball less than 10 times. That is what Arshavin gives you.

Often you wont see him for 10-20 minutes in a game, but then he'll pick the ball up and give you something special. That was the case at Man City on the weekend. He was a very frustrated figure for the first 20 minutes on the left, but then he played a delightful one-two with Samir Nasri which created the opener for Arsenal. He was also crucial in the move for the second goal, but somehow, some sections of the fans still criticized him for not having a good game. That has been his story this season. He has created a many things outta nothing, but somehow he keeps getting criticized. 5 goals (Blackpool, Blackburn, Braga, Partizan, Tottenham) and 6 assists (Blackpool, 2x Braga, Bolton, WBA and Manchester City). As well as crucial contributions that don't go into statistics (his involvement in the second goal vs City, the "assists" for the penalties at Spurs, where he won the game for Arsenal). Its the most efficient Arsenal player in the season and as Wenger pointed it out, the player that has created the most chances in the Premier League.

About his poor work ethic? Get over it, when you have a man as efficient as this and capable of such brilliance in your side, there is a price to pay. If you ask me, its a very fair trade.


Jason P said...

Very well written article. I respect his stats but watching his play I dont believe that he has enough of an impact on the whole game to justify keeping players like vela,rosicky or even JET out of the team. I hope that his work ethic improves over time but for 70,000 pounds a week, his overall contribution is not enough.

Alcysio Canette Neto said...

I do agree, it doesn't really matter if he is running the whole pitch as long as he keeps being decisive in the final third.
And he has improved his defensive skills since he arrived.