A VERY REVOLUTIONARY RED
As William Gallas makes the short trip down the Seven Sisters Road, most Arsenal fans, rightly or wrongly, will vilify the Frenchman over his tumultuous time with us. Consequently I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for our current outspoken star, an enigma perhaps even greater than Gallas: Andrey Arshavin, a very revolutionary red.
Tom Cunliffe-Whitford believes this is a very important season for Arsenal’s mercurial Russian, Andrey Arshavin
That his star shone so brightly in a European Championships in which he was suspended for two matches and an anonymous bystander in a semi final loss to Spain, perhaps encapsulates the mystery of Arshavin. Similarly, the image of the diminutive Russian stranded in a snowy Hertfordshire as the January transfer window closed in 2009 formed a symbolic indication as to his eccentric personality. Indeed bizarre “Arshavin quotes” have proved a massive hit in England and with good reason. His chauvinistic rants about the standard of women’s driving or his “unpleasant surprise” at the English 50% tax rule have drawn as many wry smiles as they have complaints. Yet often his outspoken nature, like Gallas before him, has also seen the Russian deliver rather damning criticism of Arsenal.
Admittedly many Arshavin fans are attracted as much by his loose tongue and similarity to a meerkat on a television advert, as they are by his exploits on a football pitch. Yet the on-field exploits of the affable Russian cannot be underestimated. It takes a very special footballer to demolish Holland at Euro 08, to hit four at Anfield in his first season, or to score stunning virtuoso goals at Old Trafford and Anfield. That such moments point to a player of extraordinary talent is undeniable, yet disappointingly, they are blighted by an occasional tendency to criticise teammates and Arsenal’s transfer policy. While Arshavin’s flippant comments haven’t come close to causing the same tumult as Gallas’s adolescent outbursts, it cannot be helpful for an established player to bemoan a lack of “stars” at the club.
It was also rather tactless to report in a national paper as early as February of this year that Arsenal hadn’t the “class” to compete with Chelsea or Manchester United during the title run-in – even if he was proved correct. In hindsight of course, our lack of class or lack of depth (another favourite gripe of his) probably did cost us the chance of silverware last term. Yet much like Gallas’s tirades about truly woeful defending during his time at Arsenal, such criticism should be kept very much in house. Indeed, Arshavin hardly shattered any great illusion by pointing out that the purchase of only Thomas Vermaelen last summer did little to compensate for the loss of both Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. Rather, like his other criticisms, his rant only served to heighten the expectation on his own
4 performances. An expectation that at the beginning of this season (a year further on) is higher than it has been for a good while.
After a summer in which Arsenal have improved (rather than diminished) their squad and with genuine title aspirations restored, fans’ willingness to indulge our Russian enigma in his jovial musings may be tested more strongly than ever. Indeed while Arshavin continues to score sublime solo goals and prove a mercurial talent which can light up a game at any given moment, the occasional moan will be tolerated. Yet such leniency will be in short supply should the team not win come May or more pertinently should Arshavin begin to more regularly turn in abject, wasteful displays. Certainly he was rather anonymous on the opening day of the season at Anfield and penalty aside, somehow managed to look quite ineffectual in the 6-0 rout of hapless Blackpool. Moreover Arshavin is hardly likely to endear himself to the Arsenal faithful during a dip in form through his work rate like, dare I say, an Eboue might. His lethargic style, which at its best can make the game look so s i m p l e , can also make the Russian maestro look disinterested. Football will always be littered with those who drag their heels for 89 minutes before scoring a fabulous winner, but Arshavin must be careful not to become a scapegoat, the excuse for others’ failures. At times of apparent apathy, comments he has made such as not being a “patriot” of the club, would undoubtedly ring far more loudly than in the aftermath of a wonderful solo goal.
Indeed more often that not Gallas’
Arshavin’s musings, however comical, would surely count against him if he was to play no visible role in a push for honours criticisms were fair and justified. An exceptional defender, more accustomed to clean sheets than losses, Gallas must have found the immaturity of the Arsenal defence frustrating. Yet ultimately it wasn’t his childish outbursts that cost him the Arsenal fans’ trust; rather it was his and Arsenal’s failure to claim silverware. That he had been the one to continually question Arsenal’s credentials meant, regardless of his own class, he was the emblem of the failure. Similarly Arshavin’s brilliance may count for little should light-hearted quips about Arsenal’s shortcomings be matched with apathetic and poor performances. His musings, however comical, would surely count against him should he play no visible role in a push for honours. For now, Andrey Arshavin remains very much a fans’ favourite and rightly so. Certainly it is hard not to like the diminutive man from St Petersburg who plays football with a smile upon his face. Moreover I’m sure he will continue to provide strange and wonderful anecdotes on life to amuse his growing fan base. Yet perhaps most pertinently, Arshavin’s phenomenal ability with a football remains integral to Arsenal’s push for trophies this season and beyond. Consequently I’m very hopeful we’re still yet to see the very best of the Russian. It is often said that genius is flawed and perhaps there is a touch of that about Andrey Arshavin. A fantastic footballer who is just a little revolutionary. For instance how many footballers manage to publish books, be compared to a meerkat and offend most Western women drivers? Then again, how many footballers score four stunning goals in one game at Anfield just to rescue a point?