How Do You Solve A Problem Like Arshavin?

Andrei Arshavin of Arsenal is tackled by Gretar Steinsson of Bolton during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Bolton Wanderers at The Emirates Stadium in London England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

For the past year, the name Andrei Arshavin has left a bad taste in the mouths of Arsenal fans. What's the problem with his game, and what does the future hold for him?

Andrei Sergeyevich Arshavin is a name that, when announced over the PA system at Arsenal's perma-quiet Emirates Stadium, seldom attracts the sort of trepidant excitement that it once did.

The once fleet-footed winger is now synonymous with the tantalising frustration that characterises Arsenal at their worst. Wasteful in possession, unable to effectively take chances and seemingly infused with a lack of effort, Arshavin, derided by many at the Emirates but still adored by those back in Russia, hasn't always been seen in this cold, pale light.

Brought into the oft-freezing world of Leningrad in 1981, the young Andrei had a less than smooth ride during his early years in the shimmering waterways of what is now St Petersburg. Two of his most formative and marking experiences being surviving a damaging car crash and the divorce of his Mother and Father, which resulted in a sharp dip in the financial forces of our young Andrei and his parents, forcing him to sleep on the floor of a cramped and dull Leningrad flat.

The Russian winger who survived that car accident, overcame the divorce of his parents and the deprivation of having the cold, hard floor for a bed, now sits in the plush London surroundings of Arsenal's leafy Hertfordshire training ground with the weight of expectation and frustration on his slight shoulders. Signed for £15 million pounds in the winter of 2009, a masterful domination of Liverpool in April of the same year and an inconsistent scattering of goals here and there has left Arshavin in a state of flux.

It is often cited in the English and Russian national press that manager Arsene Wenger, despite persisting with the red-cheeked wide-player, is seeking to offload the mercurial talent with the likeliest destination being a return home to Russia and the English press seemingly intent on casting Arshavin back to Zenit and St Petersburg.

There is a caveat, however, with English journalists failing to perform a quick assessment of the situation at the reigning Russian champions, and Russian football in a wider context, they have, perhaps lazily, missed the fact that manager Luciano Spalletti has firmly warned the powers at be at Zenit that the Russian has no place in his plans. The Italian reportedly wants to reshape his squad, with an ageing spine needing a more youthful zest to fulfil his expectations of another Russian Premier League title and progressing past Benfica in the Champions League. With Spalletti demanding moves for a striker, a central midfielder and centre-back cover, however, a move for Arshavin seems a crowd-pleasing folly.

The situation, as it stands, looks bleak for the Arsenal player, out of favour in his current home and not wanted in his past home. Although the other current Russian asphyxiation of English journalists, Anzhi Makachkala could be a possible option, the wealth of talented individuals they currently have in Arshavin shaped holes may rule out any possible transfer, as would his confessed sole Russian love for Zenit.

The other avenue for progress, of course, could always be an improvement in form for his current employers. But with his stock seemingly on the continuous wane since the blazing performance at Euro 2008 and his debut six months at Arsenal, the current criticisms of Andrei Kanchelskis may be revealing. Speaking to The Mirror, the formerManchester United winger commented, ‘all the three Russians in the Premier League [Arshavin, Bilyaletdinov and Pavlyuchenko] had times when they played great football. But such periods proved to be too short. These days all the players are thinking of is money matters.'

The fact that Kanchelskis, a former Russia international, draws a link between wealth gained and performance lost maybe, especially in the case of Arshavin, quite telling. Two of Arsenal fans' most common complaints, a lack of fitness and a lack of effort, could be linked to this issue. After managing to claw himself away from that flat in Leningrad all those years ago through sheer footballing talent alone, the now older Andrei may have lost the motivation that his earlier footballing career possessed - perhaps unsurprisingly. Now neither playing to better his life or for the local club that he holds so dear to his heart, the lack of effort displayed may be resulting from a loss of drive, accompanied by the intrinsically better lifestyle he now leads.

In terms of the issue of fitness, or a lack of it, money and motivation could again be the prevalent issue, however, it is this column's long held assertion that Russian players, of all talents, shapes and sizes, face often unconquerable difficulties in adapting to the Western football calendar. Where in Russia, Arshavin was expected to maintain optimum match fitness from March to November, the faster paced demands of the English game now ask for that fitness to be transferred to an August-May calendar. This may be a debate that requires a great deal more detail than is here afforded, but it could and should be no coincidence that the peak of Arshavin's footballing powers, the 2008 European Championships and the first six months of his Arsenal career, both correspond to the Russian soccer schedule.

The coming weeks and months will almost certainly be crucial in forming the direction that this boy-faced winger's career will take. Arshavin would probably be best served adopting the work ethic that made possible a multi-million pound move to one of the world's foremost clubs. Although, he may ask manager Arsene Wenger for more time to prove himself, the Frenchman's convictions may mirror that of The Smiths' 1987 lyrical whiz "you just haven't earned it yet, baby."

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