Both on the pitch and in the media, Andrey Arshavin can be entertaining and infuriating in equal measure. As the Russian’s initials suggest, on the field he is capable of injecting energy like an AA battery and his comments certainly powered the mischief machine of the Russian media.
The reputed comments of the diminutive playmaker to his native media produced electricity in north London this week and have certainly livened up an otherwise routine end of season. A degree of furore has also arisen in response to the remarks, with the attacker having allegedly stated that: “Playing just one season for Barcelona would make a pinnacle of my whole career.” Various explanations have come to the fore, and Arshavin’s agent Dennis Lachter moved quickly to dismiss the reports as being lost in translation. Never one to hold his tongue when pressed on matters and as a renowned straight talker, it is easy to see how the player’s admiration for Barcelona was converted into a desire to leave by a media hungry for controversy. His willingness to be open to, and interact with, the media is demonstrated by his personal website in which he regularly provides amusing responses to fans’ questions. When one fan asked how he envisaged himself in 50 years time, he amusingly replied: “A 78-year old man, with aching legs and a glamorous walking stick,” yet it is his more immediate future that concerns the Gunners.
He gave another humourous response on the website when questioned on the issue of player privacy, to which he replied: “Give it a few more weeks and they will put a camera in a footballer’s pants in order to get a story.” Bearing this in mind, his comments clearly show an awareness of the media’s attempts to satiate a desire for scandal, and so providing ammunition is at best foolish, and at worst irresponsible. Superficially, it demonstrates a lack of respect to Arsene Wenger who put tremendous faith in him, breaking Arsenal’s transfer record to secure his capture, and to the fans who have taken him to their hearts. The extent of the faith shown by the manager in making the landmark capture has also been demonstrated by his hints as to Arsenal’s transfer market dealing this summer. The manager indicated that the Gunners would conclude their transfer dealing before the World Cup due to the fact that: “The prices are artificial and you have to bear in mind that anyone can have three weeks of glory.” That he signed the Russian after he shot to prominence on the back of a successful UEFA Cup campaign with Zenit St Petersburg and an impressive Euro 2008 campaign at the ‘artificial’ price that the hype surrounding his performances commanded shows just how highly he rates the player. In the wake of the reports, the manager has maintained this faith and refused to accept the comments at face value: “I take with a little bit of distance what comes back translated sometimes.”
In what has been a frustrating campaign for the team, it must also be noted that a troubled season has also plagued the playmaker. In a season punctuated by injuries which has often seen him played out of position due to a depleted squad, a lack of form is understandable and his comments may well be borne out of frustration. Similarly, his remarks earlier in the season ruling Arsenal out of the title race due to a lack of depth may be indicative of the frustrating campaign he has endured. A player speaking his mind can be refreshing, but when this has been allied to a perceived lack of effort upon his return, it is easy to see why he is not afforded the benefit of the doubt in relation to his most recent controversial statements.
Despite all of this the manager knows all too well the mischief that can be created by the media and neatly summed up the situation, choosing to focus on his own club: “When you are at Arsenal, you are at Arsenal. When you are somewhere else, you are somewhere else.” His faith in the Russian and this kind of judgment could make the manager the decisive factor in the player’s future as Arshavin’s agent asserted: “Andrey is staying and a lot of other things depend on one man… We would like to know that Wenger will be at Arsenal next season.” A man of principle, Wenger will certainly be at Arsenal next term as he honours the contract that ties him to the Emirates until the end of next season. Beyond this, Arsenal will hope that his sentiments entice him into a new deal as the project continues to develop.