On the first day of Euro 2012…non-goalscoring number nines and Arshavin

1.Who says number nines have to score?

When Aleksandr Kerzhakov screwed a shot wide on 70 minutes, it confirmed to everyone what they already knew; that he was going to be replaced. With the effort, he carried the unwanted – and previously unknown – distinction of being the first player in Euro history since records began, to attempt the most shots without hitting the target. But that shouldn’t mask what other good he did for the team. Granted, when Roman Pavlyuchenko entered the pitch in his place, he went more than one better, creating and scoring the two goals to make it a rout. But before that, Kerzhakov continually dragged the Czech defence and his tireless movement helped create space for the midfielders to run into.

I predicted before the tournament that the highest goalscorer will be a player who doesn’t conventionally operate as a number 9 before unwisely, at least, judging by this showing, go for Kerzhakov. But how much of Kerzhakov’s role consists of playing as a traditional number 9? Because it’s expected goals in Dirk Advocaat’s system come from all over – and certainly they broke with speed in midfield to support Kerzhakov – with Alan Dzagoev getting two, the second of which was created by Pavlyuchenko. Roman Shirokov got the other as a pass from Arshavin eluded Kerzhakov and trickled it’s way to him. In the other group game, Greece’s goal – after going down to ten men – was always planned to come from Dimitris Salpingidis as coach Fernando Santos, had him darting off from the right-flank at every opportunity. He also created the penalty with a similar move. In this case, the centre-forward’s role was mainly limited to a decoy for his runs. To try not to sound like apologising for Kerzhakov too much, he should have scored and his profligacy might have ultimately cost Russia at 2-1. But one might come to accept that centre-forwards don’t always have to score – if others do.

2.Warning: massive Arshavin apology

Russia’s 4-1 win over Czech Republic was exhilarating, exhibiting the kind of exuberance they showed in 2008 when they finally captured – after nearly two decades of obscurity – their total footballing heritage. They passed the ball quickly, poured forward in numbers and punished the Czechs when it mattered. Andrey Arshavin was superb, directing counter-attacks with sharpness. For his apologist, the win was a massive advert of what Arsenal did wrong. Except we can’t possibly excuse three years in which his numbers (except passing accuracy) were on the back of a match. Indeed, if he can play so well for Russia, what is it that makes it different at Arsenal?

For one, Arshavin relishes playing for his country; the responsibility of captaincy paradoxically liberating him. The other is the level of freedom he gets for Russia that he can’t possibly at Arsenal. Because for the national side, he’s the one player that’s capable of moments of spontaneity – and that kind of responsibility would be too much of Dzagoev – but for Arsenal, he is offered a degree of freedom but how much more can Wenger subsidise his role?

More appropriately, it’s that extra space he’s offered at international or Russian domestic level which he thrives on, particularly on the break. Perhaps, giving him a central role might have allowed him to do that at Arsenal, but patently, Wenger doesn’t see him as a playmaker. The Czech were naive to offer him that room – but they did so, because they thought they could go toe-to-toe with the Russians. In the Premier League, most teams approach Arsenal in an overly cautious manner thus 60+% of the game is played in their half. As such, it must be said Arshavin, simply hasn’t been able adjust to the lack of space in an Arsenal shirt. Indeed, Czech Republic realised their 4-1-4-1 was giving too much room on the break for him and a result, in the second-half, put on another holding midfielder, Thomas Hubschmann, to try and shore things up before the floodgates eventually opened again.

It was the partnership with Dzagoev, though, which caught the eye, interchanging freely with him in a way that Arshavin might not be afforded at Arsenal with Theo Walcott. The Gunners tried to do that more last season but not in real time and rather, at designated phases of the match. For Russia, they both figured wide in 4-3-3 initially but were tasked with roaming inside, at times resembling a Christmas Tree shape.

In turn, Arshavin thrilled and dazzled for Russia in a way all too familiar yet too far for the Gunners.

3.Poland’s Arsenal conundrum

Poland, hosting their first major sporting event, produced an atmosphere that was spine-tingling as it was inspiring. And as expected, their national team responded, using the nervous and excited energy to make an exhilarating start. They were relentless in the first-period, as they poured forward with pace and never allowed Greece to settle as they wanted to. However, in the second-half, they just couldn’t come out in the same fashion. Because once the novelty of hosting the first game set in, they looked ordinary and were soon pegged back through an equaliser and then a red card for Wojciech Szczesny.

In a sense, Poland’s second-half echoed the end of Arsenal’s season and the consequent conundrum they face for the next. Because The Gunners ended 2011/12 playing at a dizzyingly high-tempo that they can’t possibly retain for next season. Or if they do, they must do it in a more intelligent manner. Because from February,Arsenal managed to save their season by using the momentum in the race for third to devastating effect, approaching games with an intent that opponents couldn’t match. But they almost always let up in the second-half as that intensity is difficult to maintain. And as such, Wenger will be planning the next season with a hint of the unknown: does his team need to be unshackled and be forced into taking creative risks to play at it’s best? And considering how difficult that is to sustain as shown by the second-half of the campaign, it’s not a reasonable request to expect them to play like this all the time.

For Poland, the objective is more short-term. Because once the game settled, they showed their limitation and when asked to create, offered little in terms of cohesion apart from a selection of players. Łukasz Piszczek gave them a different dimension from right-back, Robert Lewandoski battled and bullied opposing defenders while Ludovic Obraniak only dazzled in glimpses. Host nations have always been empowered by their home crowd and it looks like Poland will need every one of their inhabitants to roar them on.

Arsenal player watch

Wojciech Szczęsny (2/10): The goalkeeper was relatively untested before Greece’s equaliser which he might have felt he should have done better. And his day – and possibly his tournament – came to a premature end when he was red-carded. Szczęsny has come far in a short space of time with not only his talent but his personality and he’s need every bit of that if he is to retain is his place once his suspension elapses.

Tomáš Rosický (5/10): Rosický showed neat the touches and turns that we have come to expect from him but was unable to deliver the telling passes to inspire his country. It was another long-haired schemer that impressed, however, for the Czech’s as Petr Jiráček outshone his captain.

Andrey Arshavin (7/10): The Russian captain seems to thrive playing for his country and he delivered once again, tormenting the Czech Republic defence and instigating breaks with pinpoint vision.

Andrey Arshavin delights and frustrates in equal measure

There are two great philosophical debates that divide the football world; whether to play attractive football or to favour a more pragmatic approach and how to jude how good a player is. While the former is more or less answered by the league format biasing towards a “winning at all costs” mentality the latter is much more subjective. For example, I would rate Ronaldinho as the best player of the decade gone by because of his frequent spectacular performances and one-man showings but he only performed at his peak for four – albeit fantastic – years. Zinedine Zidane may be the widely held option as he did it more consistently however Ronaldinho thrived due to his unorthodoxy and for that reason, he will have stuck out more. Zidane, though, may be the purists choice because he brought great visceral joy in his balletic movements. Either way, judging and thus comparing talent is an ambiguous art.

Is it goals that you use to judge a player; the medals they won or their effectiveness in the international stage, a measure which straight-away puts those players born in an average nation at a disadvantage? What about taking individual attributes such as tackling and passing and assigning a score and weighting system to each one thus arriving a total at the end? Paul Ince used one for The Mirror’s pull out paper, Score, to settle the argument on who’s better; Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard? Conveniently, Ince arrived at a tie. Of course, there can be no answer and rather, you use a number of factors to decide on the outcome although that method is unlikely to remain consistent. Put simply, it is an intuitive feeling that differs from person to person.

I ask this because there is one player at Arsenal for which this particularly applies to; Andrey Arshavin.

The Russian was brought to Arsenal in 2009 as a marquee signing; an antithesis to their youth development project and in that half a season that he arrived in, he single handedly qualified Arsenal for the Champions League. His 6 goals and 9 assists offered a tantalising vision of what he could bring when he finally acclimatises to the English league and most importantly, the “Arsenal way” if given a full season in the colours of red and white. However, by his own admission he has failed to live up to the hype, only delivering his explosive talents in sporadic moments. This season, he says confidence has dented his form although in recent matches, he is showing again that he can be an important player for Arsenal. Yet, this follows a brief period on the bench which coincided with Arsenal’s best spell of form from the middle of December to the end of February and it is likely that should Arsenal’s preferred eleven (Szczecny – Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy – Song, Wilshere – Walcott, Fabregas, Nasri – van Persie) remain fit at once, an impact substitute would be his default role again.

Andrey Arshavin divides because he is a maverick; an individual who frustrates and delights at the same time. He is not one to fall into the collective endeavour, partly because he lacks the stamina to track back and partly because he just doesn’t believe he needs to. Arshavin speaks of the same vision of football he and Wenger have but the Frenchman has yet to convince the Russian of doing his bit defensively. At least, Arshavin realises the necessity of pressing up the pitch although by the time he closes down the first opponent, he effectively renders himself out of the defensive phase should they evade his presence.

Those Andrey Arshavin apologists point to his statistics as his main saving grace and it is true, they are very impressive. “If you look at the assists in the Premier League, Arshavin is the best,” said Wenger. This season in 43 games in all competitions, Arshavin has scored 10 goals and made 17 assists.  However, are goals and assists enough to judge the success of the player? It should be, especially as the saying goes, “goals win games” and Arshavin has contributed to his fair share. But this time the statistics are against him. In his 21 starts in the league this term, Arsenal have won 52% of their matches and in the seven he doesn’t feature or arrives from the bench, The Gunners have won 75%. Of course, you can point to the sparse amount of matches without him which makes the latter statistic more impressive but there is a correlation here. Of Arsenal’s six matches between December and March (Chelsea, Birmingham City, Manchester City, West Ham United, Wigan Athletic and Stoke City) where they found their best form with their fantastic eleven, their win percentage is 83%. And in the three more league games in that period where the only changes made were enforced, the win percentage was still at an impressive 77%; a figure that is very close to the 75% win percentage without Arshavin. It is true, however, that the bulk of Arshavin’s matches were at the beginning of the season when the team was often impacted by injuries but perhaps it is significant that Arsenal soon found their fluency when Arshavin was not a regular in the team anymore.

Arshavin says his style has been “altered” and is now “more effective, but less sparkling” but is that just a way to cover up his waning talents and failure to adapt? Certainly that is the view in the Russian press following their recent 0-0 draw with Armenia with Sovetsky Sport columnist Yuri Tsybanev suggesting he is now being picked on reputation alone. Jonathan Wilson continues to note the scathing attacks directed at Arshavin by writing in the Guardian that former USSR defender Yevgeny Lovchev has said that “Arsène Wenger continues to make encouraging noises about Arshavin only to make sure his value doesn’t drop too much. Meanwhile the satirist Mikhail Grushevsky called Arshavin “a sacred cow” who must be replaced.”

It has become evident then, that Arshavin cannot rely on numbers alone to back up his case. It pains me to say it but the Russian has simply failed to integrate himself to the Arsenal style as well as he should have. His passing statistics are particularly poor; yes he is capable is sprinkling a bit of magic that can create a moment out of nothing while he has also delivered at key moments this season and last season that have gone unnoticed. But that may mean falling into the same trap; that direct is more better when, tactically Arsenal may be better off playing more shorter. His passing percentage is at a disappointingly low 70% and the rhetoric that his position encourages more killer passes look decidedly thin when comparing it to the 80% pass success of Arsenal’s best through-ball specialist, Cesc Fábregas. All this must take into account also that Arshavin plays in that all to selfish role of the wide forward and one that is heavily subsidised to cater for his vices. As Roberticus of Santapelota writes in his overview of Brazilian football “Where have all the wingers gone? the position is “undoubtedly the most selfish of roles in modern football. Selfish, I say, not as a character judgement, but rather in the sense that such a style of play carries with it so many potential rewards and comparatively little concomitant responsibility.” Indeed, how long can he be excused of not tracking back thus exposing poor Gael Clichy due to the possibility that he may create a goalscoring opportunity?

However, there is a charm about Andrey Arshavin that makes him irresistible at times. His plump cheeks and minimalist haircut indicates an innocence in his play; a player who is much in tune with his artistic freedom and takes infinite pleasure in the simple act of playing football. Watch his face before every goal and you will see his tongue reveal itself from his mouth in excitement. It was quite surprising to hear that the criticism of his form affected his confidence as much as it did because here was a player seemingly so free of fear and that was indicated by his style. Free spirited and ambitious, every touch on the ball gets you off your seat because there is an anticipation that he may produce something special. He more often than not does although with his unpredictability does also come frustration. Loose balls are aplenty with Arshavin, as is the frequent “stuck in the mud” routine whenever a pass goes beyond him. Perhaps we are being a bit harsh on Arshavin but there were signs this season that even the most ardent of fans were becoming disgruntled by his style.

How do you judge Andrey Arshavin’s worth to the team? Is it his numbers; his unpredictable brilliance or how involved he is in the team’s attacks? Because with Arshavin, it’s seems it’s a question which will forever remain unanswered.

No false dawn about Andrey Arshavin experiment

Andrey Arshavin was the fulcrum to Arsenal’s attacks as his movement helped defeat Stoke City.
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You’ll never win anything with midgets was the common maxim before the game, started no less than by the impish Andrey Arshavin. Maybe that was all part of a double bluff as the Russian inspired Arsenal to a comfortable two-goal victory over a Stoke side giant in stature, as the spearhead of the attack.

A “period of re-adaptation” was inevitably going to be needed following Robin van Persie’s injury according to Arsene Wenger and three defeats later, the manager may have found his answer. Arshavin was always the natural answer to van Persie’s movement at the tip of the 4-3-3 after for some reason, Eduardo has failed to adapt to the role. Indeed, the Croatian missed out in this game after suffering a minor muscle injury which allowed Arshavin to lead the line.

If Arsenal were to win this game, it was only going to be through movement; pace was at a premium with only Eboue and Traore able to offer on that front so variety and unpredictability had to come through runs off the ball and quick support. And with Andrey Asrhavin as the fulcrum constantly darting in and out of position, the Stoke central defenders found it difficult to keep up with Gunners approach play. “I had many technical players around him with Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas, Eboue, and all penetrating from deep positions,” said Wenger. “That is needed when you have a player like Arshavin.” For the first goal, he drifted to the left, interchanging passes with Fabregas before firing low past Thomas Sorenson. The opener was sandwiched in between a penalty miss by the Arsenal skipper and Eboue denying the same player with a goal line block.

Arshavin’s low centre of gravity and ability to see openings one step further than most lent him well in adapting to the role. Indeed the question is, was Arshavin playing as a false nine? Certainly it is a vague definition. While Berbatov and Ibrahimovic have moments where they drop deep into space, they are still very comfortable in leading the line. Tim Cahill filled in as the main striker last season for Everton but he was merely playing as a midfielder in a number nines clothing.

Here, Arshavin’s natural tendencies led him to drop away from the defender and as such mainly operated in the second striker area. This made it difficult for either central defender to decide whether to stick with him or stay back and as a result conceded space. The danger however, was that with Stoke defending as deep as they were, the team may lose some directness. But Arshavin cleverly looked to combine the two roles and in the first half in particular found himself in more orthodox striking positions although his composure let him down. However, it was playing on the shoulder which created the second, Ramsey driving through and receiving the ball back from Arshavin before poking home. The Welshman was a second half substitute for Eboue and his introduction gave Arsenal added dynamism to allow the Gunners to finally put Stoke to bed.

Overall it was a controlled Arsenal team performance. Nasri and Denilson kept the side ticking, Fabregas continued probing but while Wenger will have been pleased with the team finding the back of the net again, he would have also been delighted with the way they handled Stoke’s physical threat. Vermaelen was totally dominant and apart from a period of early pressure, the away side did not get a look in. The Gunners are back on track but the big if is whether they can continue playing with such high level of movement.

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City: Arshavin 26, Ramsey 79.

Arsenal: Almunia (6), Sagna (7), Gallas (7), Vermaelen (7), Traore (7) (Silvestre), Eboue (6) (Ramsey 7), Fabregas (7), Denilson (7), Nasri (8), Rosicky (6) (Vela 7), Arshavin (8)*.
Subs not used: Fabianski, Senderos, Wilshere, Merida.

Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, Collins, Lawrence (Fuller), Delap (Whelan), Diao, Etherington, Sanli, Sidibe (Beattie).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Higginbotham, Cort, Pugh.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)

Arsenal Team Statistics Stoke City
2 Goals 0
1 1st Half Goals 0
7 Shots on Target 3
6 Shots off Target 1
2 Blocked Shots 1
10 Corners 2
4 Fouls 12
1 Offsides 8
0 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
85.4 Passing Success 67.2
22 Tackles 34
72.7 Tackles Success 82.4
67.4 Possession 32.6
54.9 Territorial Advantage 45.1

Wenger transplants a more direct approach after losing creative brains

Wenger has recast his Arsenal team to a more direct and quicker side this season after the loss of key creative midfielders.
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Arsenal received the bad news this week of another set-back to perennial sick note Tomas Rosicky or it would have been even worse had their not been another little figure orchestrating proceedings. The ‘Andrey Arshavin factor’ is in full flow with the Russian displaying the right amount of creativity and dynamism that has so been missing for the last couple of months and indeed maybe even the whole season.

With Arshavin and Walcott operating out wide against Blackburn and Hull City, it is quite a marked difference from the wide men of Hleb and Rosicky of last season, who making up for their lack of directness interplayed with quick, one touch passes. The creative abilities of the wide men often accused Arsenal of being over-elaborate but the movement caused much uncertainty among opposition defences.

“I like to have one behind the striker, and one or two on the flanks who come inside,” said Arsene Wenger. “I always feel that if you have players who can deliver the decisive ball in all areas of the pitch, you have many more chances of being creative. If it’s only focused on one central part, where it’s usually more concentrated, you have more space on the flanks to create.”

With Hleb and Rosicky both preferring to cut inside it resulted into the more pass-focused play and while the ‘Invincibles’ were the original pass masters, with Ljungberg and Pires wide, had greater dynamism and penetration to go with it. For most of this season Arsenal have had to use Nasri and Eboue but as both prefer to come inside, to play such a passing game requires players to play around them and that is where Fabregas has been missed.

“When he’s there, everything goes through him but when he’s not it can take a while to adapt because the game goes through different ways – it’s plural,” said Wenger. “When it’s Fabregas it is more one-way traffic at the start of the build-up.” As a result their has been an over-reliance on the front four recently which requires quicker build up play and more directness from the wings. The possession keeping when teams have taken the initiative to the Gunners is as of yet not as strong as it can be; a lower percentage of possession to both Fulham and Aston Villa would have been blasphemous last season. The shield of Denilson and Song/Diaby have improved immensely but as of yet not as expansive as the Spaniard however they are slowing gaining in confidence  and the signs are good.

The partnership raises an interesting point; Arsenal have always had a midfield shield in front of their defence but who also had the creative potency but with Fabregas it is always him plus one, maybe leaving the team open at times. He has created plenty of goals and has been the heartbeat of the side but ultimately the club’s trophy haul during his  years at the club suggests he wasn’t success. Of course it is an absurd statement given his talismanic status but if Fabregas pushes up could put a lot of strain on the defence hence Flamini’s impact last season. However both Denilson and Diaby have shown they can match the Frenchman for industry both clocking up 15,000 metres against Roma and are still under the age of 24 (when Flamini made his breakthrough). Fabregas has shown, upon given the captain armband that he can undertake a more dictating role to achieve a greater balance while his tackling has always been understated.

The more direct play have grown naturally but given Wenger’s statement on how Arsenal have had to adapt without the Spaniard, it seems more manufactured. After the match against Hull, Arshavin stated Wenger wanted the team to play more quicker in his half time team-talk. “He told us that while we were doing the right things, we needed to speed up a bit to get the result.” The late Renus Michels, who was former Holland manager during the ‘Total Football’ era feels such a counter attacking style has shown to be most efficient when ‘short term success is desired.’ In his book ‘Teambuiding: The Road to Success’ a team in phase two will usually implement this style as their main style while those in phase three master what he call ‘ball circulation’ something not many teams can do.

The team must master the ‘ball circulation’ component to be able to determine the correct moment to start the attack. However, ball circulation is a means, not a goal in itself! To carry the play on the opponents half of the field places high demands of the build-up. There is not much time and space to work in and you have to deal with high defensive pressure. Fast combinations and excellent positional play are a must. Circulation football!

To lose possession close to the middle line when building-up is almost ‘suicidal’ in this risky style of football. One touch passing is also a must in the building-up team function of this strategy. This demands additional tactical insight from the players as situations quickly have to be surveyed. Each player has to anticipate even more.

To carry the play means that one time you choose to play in a high tempo and the next time you use delaying tactics to slow the play down. A play-making team must take full advantage of the space and must have defenders who can quickly change the point of attack, wing forwards who remain on the outside, etc.

The transition from defence to build-up must be executed very quickly. The team tactical manpower in the centre of the field(central defenders, midfielders and striker) is of great importance.

During the build up, the tactical coherence between the central defenders who must be thinking of playing the ball forward, the attacking midfielders and the central striker is very precise work. When possession is lost, it starts in the opposite direction. Good ball circulation puts high demands on the quality of the positional play, the mastering of the tempo and the speed of action.

In terms of style Arsenal can be classed to be in the middle of the two as they rebuild but with the players Wenger has at his disposal they can offer the correct blend of circulation football and dynamism that the ‘Invincibles’ perfected. Arshavin has only to adapt to English football and the teams understanding, Samir Nasri is still developing his dribbling to be a more effective winger but has the capability to deputise for Fabregas in the near future. Defensively the team is as strong as ever, maybe due in part to the more cautious approach and as the team are young, can get even better.

Arsenal should continue to develop momentum and with a good end to the season and pre-season to adapt to each other, the team has the variety, interchangeability to be potentially beautiful to watch and explosive at the same time.

Arsenal have signed a flawed genius in Andrey Arshavin

In Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal have signed a player capable of moments of pure magic but it is his attitude and commitment rather than his ability that had denied him a bigger move earlier in his career.

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“Arshavin is a footballer who can make something out of nothing,” says Russia coach Gus Hiddink. If proof needed to be of his ability, Euro 2008 had finally elevated Arshavin to the footballing public eye. For many it was the first they had seen of the playmaker, as he was the architect of two brilliant wins over Sweden and Netherlands. His balance, vision, awareness and the ability to seemingly glide past opponents made him some people’s player of the tournament after just three games.

The tournament had added an extra £10 million to his valuation whereas it was widely accepted he could have been signed for the minimum of fuss a season or so before. The non-appearance in a major competition kept him beneath the radar as Russia failed to qualify for Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup. However it was not the failure to display his talents in such competitions that denied him of a  move earlier in his career, it was his questionable level of fitness and temperament.

The semi-final against Spain had seen him marked out of the game by Marcos Senna and was subsequently moved to the left but there he also failed to make an impact. It wasn’t the fact that his threat was so easily nullified by Senna it was his lack of desire or effort to make something happen. The question of a lack stamina or laziness has been asked of him since he made his breakthrough at 19, usually seen trudging back slowly to the halfway line and not making enough effort to cover for his defenders. “Arshavin is a fine player, but is he mature enough to play in the strongest leagues?,” asked Jose Mourinho.”At Euro08 he showed a lot of inspiration against Sweden and Holland. But he looked like he was absolutely switched off in the next match against Spain.” It is an area of weakness that one would not have been able to identify from a couple of Youtube videos that so many have used to decipher an opinion from.

Even his eventual suitor Arsene Wenger also raised reservations about signing Arshavin. “That Arshavin is a top-level talent is beyond doubt. The only issue is related to the fact that the leading leagues in the world mean you must be at the highest level of physical readiness throughout the season. Can he show his full potential every three days that happens every season the same in England and Spain?” However, Wenger was playing a shrewd game; he went to the Championships talking about Benzema, Modric and Gomes as potential stars but this was as a smokescreen to look at the Russian playmaker, Gokhan Inler and Senna. Yes, Wenger was concerned that Arshavin was marked out of the game but a player who could change the game so quickly and decisively is a great talent.

Yet Arshavin so nearly threw Russia’s chances into doubt as before the tournament he had got himself suspended for kicking an Andorran player in a friendly match. His temperament is said to have been one of the reasons he had failed to mature and develop quicker.

In 2006 Zenit manager Dick Advocaat dropped Arshavin to the bench as he and two other Zenit players went clubbing the night before an important game with FC Spartak. The moment is said to have affected Arshavin is he was unhappy with the decision and as a result his football suffered. He got back to form in 2007 and as an ever present helped guide Zenit to their first Russian Premier League title since 1984.

His questionable attitude looked to raise it’s ugly head this summer as he looked to manufacture his way out of Zenit, preferably to Barcelona. “A professional cannot lack the desire to play when he walks on to the field,” he said. “I try and play for Zenit the best I can. But I repeatedly told the president of the club that I didn’t want to remain in the side any longer. If they don’t let me leave, I’ll be listed as a Zenit player, but on paper only.”

In fact he loved Barcelona so much, friends recall how as a teenager he would spend hours playing Football Manager, starting out as a manager of a fourth-division English club and as all fairytale endings, finish as manager of the Spanish Giants.

But this is what makes Arshavin, Arshavin. He exudes self-confidence, maybe bordering on arrogance. He is not scared to be different and more importantly, himself. While at university he wrote a thesis on sportswear production in an institute devoted to sewing, but dismissed his decision to study for a diploma in fashion design as an opportunity to meet girls.

He is undoubtedly a special player, one of the most effective in the world along with Messi and Robben when he has the ball. His work-rate needs improving but behind him he will probably have Sagna or Clichy which will give him the freedom to wreak havoc. Like Messi in front of Dani Alves the potential is massive. Able to attack inside and outside, he is a player Arsenal have sorely missed this season and the fact he is cup-tied in the Champions League means he may not have to play two games a week just yet. Asked what position he would play at Arsenal he answered that he ‘will think about attacking’. And boy, does he.