Squillaci, Denilson, and Arshavin have all left Arsenal and the reaction from the four corners of the Arsenal diaspora was a resounding “right, so who is Arsenal going to buy to replace them?”
I’m pretty sure that Arshavin is the only player whose loss is felt at all keenly. Arshavin was the most talented of the three and one of the most highly anticipated Arsenal signings in a decade. In December of 2008, Arsenal were in 5th place, below Aston Villa and just three points ahead of Everton. So it was that Arsenal were struggling to find some form and maintain their place in the Champions League. As The Times put it under the headline “Andrei Arshavin Can Turn Arsenal’s Season Around”:
Andrei Arshavin will bring fantasy football back to the Emirates Stadium if he completes his £15 million transfer from Zenit St Petersburg to Arsenal.
Arshavin’s debut for Arsenal came against Sunderland when the club were in the midst of a 5 game series of 0-0 draws. The crowd noise when his name was announced on the tannoy was quite spectacular and within minutes of the kickoff he’d already had a shot go wide by just a few inches giving the home crowd plenty to salivate over. But as if to foreshadow his Arsenal career, it wasn’t to be on that day and the Sunderland fans celebrated their 0-0 draw at the mighty Arsenal as if they had just won the Cup.
There would be just one more 0-0 draw before Andrei Arshavin exploded onto the scene with a five game run in which Arshavin either assisted or scored. In fact, in every match where Arshavin played for the rest of the season the Gunners would lose just once and draw just twice. Arshavin’s first Arsenal loss was to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi final and the two draws were a 0-0 to Man U and the famous 4-4 draw against Liverpool at Anfield.
It was the game which sparked a tee shirt.
Liverpool were tipped to win the title that season and needing a win to get their lead back, came out against Arsenal rampant. The Merseysiders took 26 shots that day to Arsenal’s 8. Arsenal only had 4 shots on goal and all of them were from Arshavin. His line read 4 shots, 4 shots on goal, 4 goals. Arshavin should have won that game for Arsenal, putting the Gunners ahead three times only for slack defending to allow Liverpool back into the game. Again, as if foreshadowing his Arsenal career, it was not to be.
He never did anything spectacularly poor after that but just didn’t seem to be arsed to get out and work hard for a place in the Arsenal first team. Which reminds me of something I remember Arsene Wenger was reported to have said about Arshavin during the Euro 2008 “he looks unfit, I’m not sure if he could make it in the Premier League”. That’s not the exact quote, I can’t find the exact quote, but that’s the jist.
And then in 2011, Robin van Persie returned and magically, Arshavin’s contributions dried up. Arshavin scored 25 goals before van Persie returned and just 6 after. He went from a player who started Arsenal matches to a player who happily rode the pine and he never recovered that form in an Arsenal shirt. It has nothing to do with where he was played, he played wide for the matches before van Persie. It’s just been that way for Arshavin, a career full of almosts.
He almost beat Liverpool. He almost got Russia in to the World Cup. He almost got Arsenal to beat Barcelona. On and on, he almost made himself a legend at Arsenal.
But fast forward to last year and this year, he seems to have just plain given up. I have a friend who lived off his savings for a few years. He didn’t work and ended up growing an “unemployment beard”. Which is exactly what I thought of when I saw Arshavin’s official picture for Arsenal last summer “he’s growing his unemployment beard.”
And so, we come to the end of our tale with Arshavin. From the hope of Sunderland to the Unemployment Beard of the summer of 2012, and in-between a career full of almosts.
There are several other players on Arsenal’s payroll who fit this same mold. Chamakh is the big name but others include Frimpong, Bendtner, Diaby, Djourou, Santos, and Gervinho. It’s easy to streamline the three players who are out of contract but much more difficult to be rid of players like Bendtner. But it’s just as important to get them off the books somehow.
Djourou is the low-hanging fruit. He at least got some games with Hannover. Santos is another who seems to be happy in Brazil and Gervinho could be moved, though worryingly he’s said he wants to stay and fight for his place.
But some of those players are seriously damaged goods. After bottling it at Arsenal and Juventus and with a reported £52k a week salary, Bendtner is probably unsaleable. The same with Chamakh, who makes big wages as well and wasn’t even deemed good enough to start at West Ham. Frimpong is injured and Diaby’s injury record makes both of them basically impossible to move, though Frimmers might have some takers in the Championship.
Djourou and Santos should be easy but if Gazidis can get Bendtner and Chamakh off the books he will have done very well indeed. To give some context as to why it’s important to get them off the books, Bendtner and Chamakh combined make over £5m a season.
Gazidis is playing his cards close to his chest on this one, though he has, interestingly, spoken out about whether Arsene will get a new contract at the club. Saying:
We think we have got a fantastic manager who has seen us through moving to a new stadium with consistency. We think we have got the right person to make the kinds of choices and decisions that we are going to have over this really significant period of the club’s development. We are feeling very optimistic.
There are two ways to look at this; Arsene Wenger is Arsenal’s greatest manager, possibly, ever and as such he should be given a new deal or WHARRRGARRRRBLE.
Set aside the debate about Arsene’s record for a minute; a new contract is in order if you believe, as I do, that it’s important to have your manager settled for the coming years in order to attract top talent to the club. So, for example, I wonder if Robin van Persie would have gone to Man U so excitedly if he knew that he would be playing for David Moyes this season?
I’m not so sure he would have and I’m not sure that top talent like Gonzalo Higuain want to come to Arsenal if Arsene Wenger’s contract situation isn’t settled.
Let’s be clear here. Just because Wenger signs a new deal doesn’t mean that he can’t be fired. Of course he can. It will cost money but if the results go south next season and the fans turn against him he can be fired, just like anyone else. I’ve seen it happen all the time.
One more thing about that Gazidis interview which I have said before and I think needs saying again: Arsenal’s management has now spent the last two years basically bragging about how much money we have and how we are now (and in the future) going to be able to compete (for players and trophies) at the highest level.
Gazidis is specific there that Arsenal want to win the Champions League but based on our performances this season (barring the magical win over Bayern) the team is a long way off. I would say that the team are at least 3 players of top quality away from being able to compete for the Champions League title.
And I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that Financial Fair Play is slowing down the prices for top names. Man U are reportedly going too pay £18m for Garay (a center half), Villa have slapped a ridiculous £40m price tag on Benteke, Spurs offered £26m for Martinez (who rejected them!), Chelsea have reportedly paid £25m for Schurrle, Fiorentina aren’t budging on £25m for Jovetic, and Higuan’s asking price is £26m. And there is a lot of competition for these players so some of those prices will only go up. That’s what it’s going to cost to get a big name player in at Arsenal. That’s what Gazidis is saying that Arsenal will be able to afford.
They are building themselves one very large pyre to reach for the sky. Let’s hope no one lights a match.