Arsene Wenger faces yet another tumultuous summer transfer window after another disappointing season at the Emirates Stadium. He will have many big decisions to make over who needs to be hooked and who should be coming in. No decision is more difficult, though, than choosing whether to retain or release Andrei Arshavin.
Arshavin’s start to the 2011-12 season had been a career worst for the Russian, who found himself behind Gervinho, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey in the first eleven. Seeing his place in Russia’s Euro 2012 squad under threat, he joined boyhood club Zenit St. Petersburg in February at the end of the Russian winter transfer window for the remainder of the season in order to pick up form.
As soon as Russia started their first group game against the Czech Republic, it was clear that Arshavin’s loan had worked wonders. He provided two assists and supplied many more great chances in a game that Russia won 4-1. They had arrived as tournament contenders as Arshavin orchestrated their creative dominance—with help by the talented Alan Dzagoev—and showed his class.
Arshavin was no longer weighed down by the cynicism of the Emirates crowd and was free to express his creative talents to the full. A low point in his season would have undoubtedly have been when he was brought on to replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Manchester United, on January 22nd.
The Emirates Stadium was filled with boos and whistles as the Russian strode out on the field and Chamberlain went to sit in the dugout. Though the boos were believed to be directed at Wenger’s decision to bring off Chamberlain rather than bringing on Arshavin, the fact remains that a player of Arshavin’s stature should never be booed for coming on. After all, with the game at 1-1, Arshavin’s experience would have been behind Wenger’s decision to bring the young Chamberlain off, in order to have an older and wiser head to find the winner.
Unfortunately for Arshavin, Man United’s winner came from his side as he ineffectively tussled with Antonio Valencia before the Ecuadorian passed for Welbeck to score.
The black clouds in Arshavin’s season have lifted with his performances in Euro 2012, however, and though Russia were recently eliminated from the tournament by a hard working Greece side, Arshavin was Russia’s brightest hope of getting anything out of the game.
Do these strong performances merit a place in the Arsenal squad next season for Arshavin though?
Let’s start with the benefits. Firstly, at 31 years old he will be one of the most senior players in the squad. An older head to guide Walcott, Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Ramsey isn’t a bad thing.
Secondly, if Arshavin can be the player that obliterated Liverpool by scoring four sublime goals, then Wenger would be foolish to let him go.
Thirdly, Arshavin’s eye for an incisive pass is rivalled only by Spanish peers Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta and the Gunners depend on a player like that to form their attacks.
The drawback to having Arshavin though, is that he isn’t as quick as he used to be. Arsenal’s style of play relies upon interchanging pace on the wings, so he won’t be able to offer as quick counter-attacks or lung-bursting runs into the box.
Tomas Rosicky’s revitalisation, around the time Arshavin was loaned, might suggest a permanent move away from Arsenal for the Russian. In addition, there is no guarantee that Arshavin could translate his form for Russia to Arsenal and change his outcast status within the squad.
It’s certainly a tough decision to call. With Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis wanting a radical restructure of Arsenal’s wage system, selling Arshavin might aid this cause. However, with expensive names like Olivier Giroud, Dzagoev and Ibrahim Afellay being thrown around the Emirates rumour mill, Arshavin could be a surprise cost-effective solution.