While there are still a few cries of despair in the wave of the Sunderland draw, it’s pleasing to note that Arsenal fans have been much more stoic about Saturday’s end result than has been so in the past. I think, deep down, many of us realise that a point might have been almost a little more than we deserved. All things considered, we got a point from a pretty tough away-game to the North-East, let alone one where the Captain goes of injured with a half left to play AND we’re reduced to 10-men for the final fourty minutes – well, really, salvaging a point doesn’t seem that bad after all.
Of course, we can’t forget that this was a fixture we left empty-handed from last season. It ended in such similar fashion; it could almost have been a carbon-copy. I’d go as far as to say that without Fabregas’s freak goal, I’d have been checking to see whether this was actually a replay. Sunderland had our number in that fixture and this one; they shut us down, worked hard all night, won the ball back quickly and defended very deep. It was everything we struggle with, so credit to them really for playing a strong and sensible game, and, I’d like to note, a relatively FAIR game. They didn’t go out there with the sole, thuggish intention to hurt us. I think a lot of teams can learn that playing fairly and playing to beat our tactics is a far more effective method of taking us out of the game than to LITERALLY try and take us out of the game, one by one.
However, through all the sweat and mud and despair and disappointment, one thing seemed quite blatantly obvious. There was one player on our team who, yet again, looked severely off the pace. I think most of you, even without the title to this article would’ve been able to guess who, but for everybody else, I’m talking about Arshavin. Game after game this season he has looked poor. All the parts of his play which had been calling-cards of his seem to have dematerialised; he can’t beat his man, his finishing is shocking, his passing is loose and confused. Game after game after game, we’re seeing this. So why is he apparently the only player in our team (Fabregas aside) who’s position is untouchable?
One would only have to look at the Braga match to see the worst of Arshavin so far this season. His passing performance, and even his running and movement, was easily the worst on the pitch from our side. I think he had something like a 45% pass-success ratio at the end of that first 45 minutes. Like I said, less than impressive. But most of all, and it’s a problem the problem that most of us had last season as well, he just can’t seem to put the ball in the net when he should for love nor money. For every goal he is scoring, he’s throwing away, two, three, four more. It’s unbelievable really. It happened to us all last season as well – I think you’ll all unhappily remember the loss at home to Manchester United, the one where Arshavin could’ve put the game away for us in the first 15 minutes? Those sorts of performances are happening over and over.
I think equally concerning is that the little Russian seems to have lost a lot of his unpredictability. He isn’t beating his man, and every time he runs at a defender, you just know he’s going to come out without the ball. It seems he’s missing a bit of his spark, which is obviously of great concern to him – earlier in the season he was already lamenting that his style has lost its spark (see here http://www.setanta.com/africa/Articles/ … nid-76197/)
More than any other sensationalist ideas that will be put forward, one’s that suggest his ‘mind is elsewhere’ and what not, it seems clear that he is just suffering from a SEVERE lack of form, which is unfortunate. But I think in this case, there’s two ways to handle a player in bad form – keep playing them until they grind their way through it, or put them on the bench for a while, to reflect and come back hungry to regain their position. I’m definitely a fan of the latter in this case.
I know a lot of people will argue that he’s scoring goals, he’s providing assist, but really, take a good look at the goals he’s scoring; do you think those who replace him in the position would be failing to score those goals? Nasri, Rosicky, even Wilshere and Gibbs are naturals for that position. His missed chances have been going unpunished so far, that was, until Sunderland, when it became clear what a liability it is to have somebody throwing away several goals a game. Chelsea are benefitting at the moment from having a man in Arshavin’s position, Malouda, absolutely putting them away, whereas, to our detriment, Arshavin is at the opposite end of the form scale.
So why does he continue to retain his place? There’s probably a couple of theories. One might be that we don’t have the depth in midfield to be dropping top players at the moment, but I don’t buy it. As I mentioned earlier, Nasri, Rosicky, and a couple more would love to be filling that attacking role on the left. How long have those players, Nasri especially, been begging for a chance to be able to cut in and shoot with their right foot? Maybe it’s time they go it.
Another theory may be that Wenger is a bit afraid to drop Arshavin. Maybe he’s worried that he’ll have a strop and cause trouble? It’s possible, he can be a bit temperamental at times, but when it’s costing us points like it did yesterday, and COULD’VE done numerous times this season, we really don’t have a choice.
This isn’t an attempt to vilify our Russian Maestro, nor to make him a scapegoat for the Sunderland draw. There’s no way that we can pin that performance on one player; we were, as a team, lucky to escape with a point. Rather, this is a suggestion, which I’m sure will be well-received by most, that either his ego or his reputation, or both, is bigger than his performances at the moment, and though he has proved he is a good player in the past, sometimes it takes a bit of time in one’s own head to work out how to be better. When you know you’re guaranteed that starting spot, there’s no incentive. We all jsut want to see Arshavin back to his dazzling best, and to be honest, it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything close to that.
WRITTEN BY CURT.B
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