On 3 December 2018, Andrey Arshavin announced his retirement from the game.
While such a declaration didn’t exactly provoke shock waves within the game in general, those of an Arsenal persuasion perhaps took the time to pause for a moment and take themselves back to a spring Anfield evening ten years ago before smiling ruefully, shaking their collective heads, and then going about their day.
Such was the effect that Andrey Arshavin had on the Emirates faithful that his five years and almost 150 appearances in the red and white of Arsenal have largely been erased from the mind by many.
However, others are torn as to whether Arshavin’s story is a classic case of under-achievement or one of a player being hopelessly out of his depth at the very top levels and thus over-achieving if anything.
Born in Leningrad, Russia, in 1981, Arshavin was a reasonably late developer football-wise and didn’t hit England’s shores until just three months shy of his 28th birthday when he signed for Arsenal with minutes to spare of the 2009 January transfer window.
Signed for ‘an undisclosed fee’ from Zenit Saint Petersburg, Arshavin was intended to fill an attacking midfield role similar to the one the had enjoyed with Zenit and the Russian national team, for whom he had played since 2002.
In and out of the side during the remainder of the 2008-09 season, partly due to being cup-tied in Europe, Sharvin nevertheless made a favourable early impression. Despite only making a dozen league appearances, Sharvin managed to finish second in the club’s player of the year award and also managed a healthy return of six league goals.
That four of these six goals came one balmy Anfield evening away to Liverpool was enough to perhaps write his name into Arsenal folklore and Liverpool infamy.
The sight of Arshavin turning away with a look of sheer incredulity after netting his fourth was an endearing one that has lingered long in the memory, but in a way, it ultimately marked what was to prove to be the pinnacle of his Arsenal career.
Expected to push on from his strong start, Arshavin in some ways flattered to deceive a bit over the entire course of his time at the Emirates.
The next two full seasons saw Arshavin nail down a regular starting spot, appearing in 69 out of 76 league games, and weighing in with 16 goals, but in the main, both he and the team suffered from fluctuating spells of inconsistency.
The strength in midfield that Arsene Wenger thought he was securing was sadly all too conspicuous in its absence during this period. In fact, at times Arshavin looked a pale imitation of the player that in 2008 had helped propel Zenit to UEFA Cup glory and Russia to the semi-finals of Euro 2008.
As his career at Arsenal continued, so did the frustrations on all sides. Capable of winning man-of-the-match awards one week and being near anonymous the next Arshavin remained an enigma. Arsenal were going through what had been transcribed as a ‘transitional’ phase, but in reality, this was nothing more than a euphemism for ‘trophy-free’ and the natives were getting restless.
Into 2011-12 and Arshavin found himself no longer a regular starter. More and more often he seemed reluctant to over-extend himself with such niceties as tracking back or defensive duties, and things came to a head when he was booed while coming on as a substitute in one game.
It was at this time that a decision was taken to loan Arshavin back to Zenit and thus remove him from the firing line. This was a move he made with the intention of trying to protect his place in the Russia national team ahead of Euro 2012.
Slightly surprisingly, Arshavin found himself back at the Emirates in time for the 2012-13 season, having succeeded in his aim of making the Russian squad for Euro 2012 and appearing in all three group games.
It was not to be a triumphant return, however, and rather than a new leaf being turned it was a case of more of the same. Arshavin continued to fluctuate between the pitch and the bench with less than a dozen appearances being made throughout the season.
In June 2013, Arshavin once again returned to Zenit, this time on a permanent deal for two years. A short-lived spell at Russian rivals, Kuban Krasnodar, was followed by an Indian summer in Kazakhstan with Kairat before ultimate retirement.
Arshavin’s time at Arsenal ultimately yielded little return for the investment in the player and the hype surrounding his signing in 2008.
Yet while some felt his deficiencies were due largely to a lack of effort and willingness to apply himself, others thought that he just wasn’t up to the standard required of the Premier League and Arsenal, and Arsene Wenger in particular, were at fault for persisting with him for so long.
Whatever the merits of each side of the issue, Andrey Arshavin knows he’ll ‘always have Anfield’ as a memory to keep him warm in retirement.