Arshavin departure leaves yet more questions

Arsenal announced today that they have chosen to loan out Andrey Arshavin back to his former club Zenit St Petersburg for the rest of the season.

A marquee signing when he joined in January 2009, the captain of the Russian international team proved an instant success, lifting the team to a 4th place finish almost single-handedly. His four goals in the 4-4 draw at Anfield will live long in the memory for their sheer quality, and as a microcosm of the second half to that season – where many other players underperformed hugely and he was at the centre of everything good Arsenal did.

Arshavin started the 09/10 campaign in similar style, but soon trailed off and never truly recovered. His winning goal against Barcelona last season is another legendary moment from the little Russian, but this goal came from the bench, a role he was increasingly used in, especially this season.

Where to start with the questions?

Why loan a player out now, when we cannot bring in a replacement? We have just had to deal with Thierry Henry returning to New York and are now extremely thin in the backup department for this extremely injury-prone squad.

Why not just sell him? He clearly has no future here, so why not cash in?

More importantly, why did such a clearly talented individual fail to flourish at Arsenal? He looked a perfect player for our style after his showings at Euro 2008, and initially adapted to our style of play, adding a more clinical touch in front of goal, so how on earth did it go so spectacularly wrong? From being the life of the team to a slow, lazy liability in just over a year is quite a transformation. He didn’t become a bad player overnight. Some have cited Russia’s failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup as a moment his form dipped, but he has also been used out of position consistently by Arsene Wenger.

Who signed Arshavin? Myles Palmer is adamant that Arshavin was Gazidis’ signing rather than Wenger’s, with the Arsenal chief executive wanting to make an impression in the transfer market shortly after joining the club. Obviously Palmer is not known for his accuracy or reliability, but it has to be said that in a period of mostly signing French youngsters, Arshavin does not seem like the type of player Wenger would target. The fact that Wenger left him out of the most important game that season – the FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea – suggests that he still wanted to show he could win with HIS players. The fact that he never attempted to build a team around one of its most talented players and play him in his correct position would also back that up.

Sometimes these things just happen. It’s equally inexplicable that the once-amazing Fernando Torres has flopped so greatly since his £50million move to Chelsea. Although the cynic in me would say again that this was not a signing that the manager necessarily approved of. When the board start meddling and making signings on the manager’s behalf, the manager and the player are unlikely to ever warm to each other as much as they should. Perhaps that was the case with Arshavin.

The tragedy, of course, is that Wenger doesn’t make signings like this more often; that he doesn’t want more experienced players with proven quality to keep his youngsters out of the team or in their preferred positions. It’s a shame the board feel they have to intervene.

It’s a sad state of affairs all round. And while it doesn’t excuse the lack of effort from Arshavin at times, it is something of an explanation for it.

Ultimately, I can’t help but feel we’ve lost out here. We’ve almost been cheated out of a world class player. This serves as yet another reminder that things are not all well at the club and change needs to happen sooner rather than later.

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