If you read yesterday’s edition of ‘Arsenal’s Greatest Transfers’ you’d know I focused on Sol Campbell. Sticking to that theme today’s squad numbers will feature his number during his first spell at Arsenal, number 23. As I focused heavily on the Arsenal career of Campbell yesterday I’ll move onto my next candidate for this number.
This player is probably one of my favourite Arsenal players of recent times. I first saw him play in the UEFA Cup final of 2008 for Zenit, a game which would see him claim an assist and play a key pass leading to the goal that would see them lift the cup that year. 2008 would get even better for this Russian as he’d take the Euros by storm helping Russia to the semi-finals of the competition a couple of goals and assists each.
Then, on the winter transfer deadline day of 2009, we had our first number 23 since Sol Campbell. Confirmed seconds before the deadline as Arsenal’s record signing for around £16m was Andrey Arshavin. The Russian created many memories in an Arsenal shirt and the first came against Blackburn at home. After sending Danny Simpson to the shops, he continued down the byline before lifting the ball over Paul Robinson from the tightest of angles to score his first Arsenal goal.
While at Arsenal he played mostly on the left-wing even though he was perfectly able to perform through the middle, however, this didn’t stop him from creating goals as he scored six and assisted seven in his first half-season at the club. This was shown in his debut season on that night in Liverpool on April 21st. Playing in the classic Arsenal yellow twenty years on from that famous First Division win, Arshavin bagged four great goals off both feet in a classic game which unfortunately ended 4-4 as Liverpool equalised late on.
In his first full season with Arsenal, Arshavin didn’t shy away from responsibility either as he bagged 11 goals and six assists. After impressing in pre-season with two amazing goals against Atletico Madrid he opened his competitive campaign with a rocket to open the scores at Old Trafford which flew past Ben Foster. Unfortunately, Arsenal would go onto lose the game but we didn’t have to wait long far another Arshavin classic. Again at Anfield, this time in the winter, Arshavin latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the box before smashing it in off the post and running off in celebration for what would prove to be the winner.
2010-11 would see yet another productive season for Arshavin as he scored 10 and assisted 18 goals. Without question though there was one moment that defined his season and that came on February 16th in the round of 16 of the Champions League. After Robin van Persie had equalised with a clinical volley, Arshavin would send the Emirates into orbit minutes later.
After quick passes from Jack Wilshere and Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri was set free down the right wing, after angling into the box and assessing his options the Frenchman picked out Arshavin on the edge of the box. Running straight into the path of the ball he was able to hit it first time and oh did he hit it sweetly, the ball arrowed into the net as Victor Valdes could only fall backwards and watch us celebrate.
Now hitting 30 years of age the 2011-12 would see Arshavin become less favoured with the arrivals of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and I hate to say it but Gervinho. The next two seasons would see our favourite little Russian faded out of the squad and before he eventually returned to Zenit.
Of his five years at the club it’s no doubt that his first three were his best, and for those first three years, I’ll always be thankful as an Arsenal fan. Andrey Arshavin, a wonderful player when on his game.