Aside from a brilliant run of form in the first 6 months of his Arsenal career, Andrei Arshavin’s Arsenal career has often been outshone by his play for his national side, where he has been able to have a greater effect on games than he has in North London. It’s often been surmised, incorrectly, that this is because Arshavin is able to play in his favoured role through the middle for Russia, which isn’t true. For Russia, in both Euro 2008, where he became known to the world, and Euro 2012, where he had a renaissance of sorts, Arshavin played in a wide-leftish role, as he did for Zenit St Petersburg. As he did at Arsenal, Arshavin had the freedom to come inside, but the big difference was the amount of space Arshavin had.
And Arshavin has remained a dangerous player, if he has space. He showed that on Wednesday, though, against admittedly inferior opposition, as he was involved in almost all of Arsenal’s attacking play, collecting two assists, a goal and winning a penalty. He also rather infuriatingly, gave the ball away a lot, but even when he did he was trying to create something. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said that Arshavin’s best position may now be in the middle, which was intriguing because he had always said beforehand that Arshavin was a wide player.
One reason for this may be that both accept that Arshavin no longer has the legs to start in the wide areas, and that his already very small amounts of tracking back would become nil. In Arsenal’s new 4-4–1-1, the wide players have to track back, and defend, but not as much the second striker/playmaker, who’s encouraged to find pockets of space to lead counter attacks. In this kind of space, Andrei Arshavin could flourish, and among Arsenal’s playmakers not known as Santi Cazorla, Arshavin probably has the best vision among them. If Arshavin is to start a game, it’ll surely be in this role, and while his sometimes carelessness in possession can hurt the team, having two more defensively minded players behind him will give him a certain amount of creative freedom.
While Arshavin no longer has the legs to start in the wide areas, he can still play the decisive pass, as he did at Sunderland last February, and, off the subs bench, he has enough quality and pace to find a little bit of space to play that pass. With Arsenal still finding problems against deep lying sides, Arshavin could be a secret weapon; he’s certainly more capable of making a breakthrough against an ultra-defensive side than Theo Walcott.
Andrei Arshavin is no longer the force that he was when he arrived in English football; he won’t be scoring 4 goals at Anfield anymore. But he looks fitter and hungrier than he has in a long while, and, with the chance to get into positions with more space, he could be a pleasant surprise for Arsene Wenger.