How Arshavin fits the bill as Cesc’s alternative

How Arshavin fits the bill as Cesc’s alternative – Blogged by TheTirelessMidfielder

  • The little Russian from Meerkovo – I mean, err, Saint Petersburg, could adapt to central role from aberration as a winger.
  • Fabregas’ near-inevitable departure for Spain leaves fewer options than Nasri, Wilshere, Denilson and Diaby.

We’ve seen it before in the news, whether it be online or on the back pages of the morning’s tabloids – even in the afternoon when browsing through the Sky Sports channel and flicking on to Sky Sports News, only to see the tedious transfer saga scroll across the bottom of the screen in the yellow and black colours that breaking news usually is. Both Arsenal and neutral fans are getting tired of the back-and-forth play between the two clubs and it seems almost certain that within the next year or two that Fabregas will eventually leave for the club he left in the summer of 2003 for a minimal fee.

But with it has come doors and windows of opportunity for the fringe players within the Emirates and someone to fill at least a quarter of what Fabregas will be leaving. Fabregas cannot be fully replaced, but the team can shape around him, and become a stronger unit without him. Two, maybe three players can step into a role that requires them to become the main outlets for attacks whilst the others rotate around them (i.e. Gervinho, Nasri and Van Persie) But if Wenger was to put someone into the centre of the 4-2-3-1 that he has started to endorse instead of the classic 4-3-3 formation, then who would it be?

Currently, it stands with Jack Wilshere, Denilson, Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin. But even then Nasri may be out of the mix because of his rumoured move away from Arsenal in search of silverware and the demise of the club in terms of standing in as reputable contenders for the Premier League title and domestic competitions, now that Manchester City have formally stamped their claim into the league with their money, squad depth and their faith within Roberto Mancini to cough up something big. Champions League two years anyone?

But why should Arshavin be considered? Well, I may be talking through the mouth of a Football Manager enthusiast/addict, but there is more to his game than what meets the eye. Albeit that the Russian international has been inconsistent and faded away into the distance since signing January 2009, he could largely benefit from a role that makes him the main opening for through passes, counter-attacks and possession-based attacking.

Arshavin’s lethargy may be a strength, rather than a weakness

Some time ago, our own (Manchester United’s) Dimitar Berbatov was the median to a flurry of Manchester United fans for his lack of work rate and his laziness on the pitch. Commonly disregarding and showing inertness to the cause, it made him a concern to have on the starting line-up sheet, even when Rooney was unavailable. Even now, he is still belittled for the sluggishness that he once demonstrated in the attacking thirds, in spite of his improvements since then. Last season, he was a pivotal replacement striker in the midst of Rooney’s abysmal form and paired well with Javier Hernandez to score 21 goals in 42 games for the Red Devils.

For Arshavin, it is different. The role he could play in the Gunners’ configured structure is called a ‘trequartista’. Now for those who don’t know, this is Italian tactical terminology that translates to three quarters. Because trequartistas are normally positioned three quarters from the half way line, or rather from the goal. Playing in the hole of the midfield behind the centre forward, parallel to the wingers and ahead of central midfielders, he is the equidistant. Centre of everything. The orchestrator of attacks.

Trequartistas are not naturally renowned for their work rate or synergy within the team. In fact, they are rather the opposite. The same adapts for the Russian midfielder and he ticks the boxes for that column quite easily. So easily that what he is known to lack is what he is best at. Ironic, right?

Take this performance, for example, of Arshavin in the quarter finals of the 2008 European Championships from three years back. A game where he played phenomenally was also where he played as a central attacking midfielder – in effect. Not exactly an attacking midfielder, because he was deployed as a second striker, but his movement within the match could be fooled for the first idea. Arshavin scored two goals in extra time and only strengthened Wenger’s desire to buy him from his now-previous club Zenit St. Petersburg more than six months on.

A driving performance from someone who has been labelled as a laggard and laid-back player since coming to England would quell all of that if he was more present in Arsenal’s first eleven. You can see that his desire to cut inside from the flanks, skill and decent enough pace caused the Dutch backline problems – as well as the concession of two extra time goals. From 0.19 to 0.30 of the video, in the second segment, he is central to the attack and his constant running on the ball is exploited. Hiddink obviously felt that a very aged back four in what was Joris Mathijsen, Andre Ooijer, Khalid Boulahrouz and Gio van Bronckhorst would find it difficult to comprehend with a much younger and pacey Arshavin.

Van Basten opted for experience at the back on that night in Zurich and probably felt that the veteraned defensive lining of Mathijsen and Ooijer could mark him out of the game, nullifying his threat and countering it with Kuyt, Sneijder and Van der Vaart in the final thirds of a rain-drenched pitch. Hiddink, within his 4-1-3-2 formation, had Pavlyuchenko play the hold-up man against a defence that basically played three centre backs than two and two in an even ratio whilst Arshavin dropped off and back into the midfield. It created disillusionment and opened up opportunities. Eventually the formation became a 4-1-2-1-1, with him back and acting as a creative and instigative attacking midfielder.

Further on in the video, into the third segment of the highlights of ‘Outstanding Arshavin’ as labelled by BBC’s Match of The Day editorial crew, he is once again centre. Silky skill, quick pace on the ball and almost unplayable through the centre of the pitch like a mouse running across the kitchen floor, he continually poked away at the weary defence as they slogged through the extra time. Van der Sar comfortably saved his previous efforts but was eventually beaten and rightly so. Perseverance and determination paved the way to two great goals. One dubious and the other out of beautiful open play.

Last season, in the Barclays Premier League, Arshavin never played in the centre of Arsene’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and was predominantly used as a left winger. Either starting or coming on as a substitute, he found himself within rotation of Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner within the hour or final fifteen minutes of games. The game he played in the Gunners’ second match within their 38-match league fixture list was no exception to the Frenchman’s selection, but it was vivid of a central attacking midfielder. Arsenal also went on to hammer the Tangerines 6-0 that London afternoon.

If you look at the chalkboard, you can see that Arshavin’s passes during that match, within the majority are through the centre and encourages cutting inside from his own flank to allow the left full back (who was Clichy) to overlap and provide support should the attack fail. The passes are directed away from the touchline, rather than alongside it in a typical, customary fashion of a winger in any formation. And even then, it tends to drift central and into the middle of the pitch where Blackpool struggled to maintain the 3-1 that Arsenal had running.

Granting that he did not complete a large amount of passes, more than half of them were successful, and connected with its intended receiver. You can also see in Clichy’s passing analysis of that game, that he dominated the left flank as Arshavin cut onto the inside and pulled into the middle whilst Fabregas was allowed the masses of space that he is usually excellent in manipulating. 53 of the 66 attempted passes from the marauding full back were successful, as well as well as winning and losing 4 tackles each down the left hand side in equal measure.

What also twists the game is that Fabregas did not even in the starting line-up. Rosicky replaced the Spaniard in the centre of the park, and came on in the 62nd minute of the game to replace a stuttering Abou Diaby. Rosicky, that game, did great and very much performed in the way that he was put in for – a very high passing game that stretched within 62 out of his 70 passes being complete. Similar to Fabregas, the Czech playmaker was expansive, and reached all four corners of Blackpool’s half with his passing, as well as have a couple shots on goal against a dumbfounded Matthew Gilks.

Cesc in his usual playing manner completed over half the passes Rosicky connected with, and played a roaming role from the centre of the midfield, getting forward and doing what is usually expected of him. 37 passes from 43 was a good performance within half an hour provided good viewing from those sat on their couches watching it on Sky Sports, or MoTD.

And again, Arshavin is found shifted onto the left wing whilst this time Fabregas is made central. He did start the match (both of them) but Arshavin was substituted in the 56th minute, and still did well against Wolves to provide even further analysis of how he can still play central to Arsenal’s attacks. During this game, however, his passes are more direct and look to seek its intended target a lot more than it does with his game against Blackpool.  35 of his 45 passes were completed from an unsuccessful 15, and again showed a huge intention to cut inside, as well as drive through the centre of the opposition defence.

Rosicky also played a part in that match, and did a far better job than Arshavin in completing 42 of 49 passes. As much as this may prove the case that the Gunners’ may not need to invest in a new playmaker, now that they have Rosicky and know how good he is, it has been well-known of him to struggle with injuries, and has played in small parts of Arsenal’s campaigns to win the Premier League title – or anything for that matter. What happens when Rosicky pulls his hamstring? Enter, Andrey Arshavin.

Wenger’s cards and options

It will be expected of Wenger to play the 4-2-3-1 that he utilised last season in the 2011-12 campaign, with or without Fabregas and Nasri. The option of promoting Jack Wilshere to central attacking midfielder does not seem like a poor option, but it does then leave a lack of depth in the possible partnerships to marshal it in company with the Cameroonian ball-winner Alex Song. Wilshere’s tenacious attitude in the tackle and perseverance in the final third may be the one thing that makes him a better candidate than Arshavin, in addition to the fact that he can put in those crucial through passes that will be sorely missed by the Gunners’ faithful if (or rather when) Fabregas leaves.

Denilson, Diaby, Rosicky and Ramsey are the remaining applicants for the job, but two out of three of them already seem out of the race. The latter and the biggest prospect of them all, still needs some tuning, but it is expected of him to make the transition well, as long as the transition is slow and rigid, rather than heavy reliance on the Welsh international to quickly fill the shoes of someone who has left a trademark on the club within his breaking into the team six years ago. But could it also mean that a rotation within Aaron Ramsey and Andrey Arshavin would help with the changeover? It’s possible.

Inconsistency within Diaby, an unfamiliar position for Denilson and the ageing problem for Rosicky makes them less than serious options for Wenger, but also has to majorly consider Samir Nasri. The reason why I did not include Nasri was due to the transfer rumours encircling the club, coincided with the sly mental tactics from the Catalans.

What Andrey must do

  1. Annul the claims of his inconsistency with the new role, stake a claim before a decision is made – the one thing that Arshavin must do is, although get rid of the terms that he is lazy and lethargic, but also become more of a team-player, than a single-minded playmaker that was very oblivious during Euro 2008, where he was the main star of the show. He cannot do that as a Trequartista and especially within a team that he is lower in the pecking order.
  2. Pull back further into the centre of the midfield to start the drive up the pitch and make the counter-attacks. As shown three years ago in the 2008 European Championships, one of the things that the little Russian does well is surge through the midfield and into the final thirds of the midfield like a crusader and provide chances. If he can become more selfless and provide the main front man, whether it is Van Persie, Bendtner or Chamakh, then he will find himself just as important as it would be scoring a goal.
  3. Work on his fitness through pre-season – or rather that could be the goal of Wenger throughout the season to use him sparingly. He does not have the stamina reminiscent of a car engine, and is very prone to injury, which leads to further problems. Rotational programme with Ramsey still looks like a good option to put into practice, and give them both the satisfaction of contributing to the team when Fabregas and others are unavailable for selection.

What Wenger could do

  1. Rotate the central role if he is not looking to buy another player to replace the possible departure of Fabregas. Rosicky, Ramsey, Arshavin and Denilson would be the four best players to make the cut and all have their own traits and specialities that could largely benefit the wingers in Walcott, Nasri and Gervinho, and the centre forward that would most likely be Robin van Persie.
  2. Slowly induct Wilshere into the slot with Ramsey. Both are up-and-coming players within the club and will be battling for first-team places a lot more and aggressively. Wilshere’s partnership with Song in the centre of the park is beloved, but Ramsey can also become Song’s counter-part in a “creator-destroyer” duopoly.
  3. Give Denilson a push into the first-team and allow him to mould within the fluidity of the formation, as well as a better presence on the pitch. The Brazilian who signed from Sao Paulo in 2006 has made almost 100 appearances for the club, but has been non-existent at times, on and off the pitch. Last season, he only played 16 times in a possible 38 matches in the league and only four more the season before. His intention to leave Arsenal has hinted an issue, but playing more often may solve it.

But it is going to be interesting how Fabregas is dealt with in his post-departure (if he leaves that is) and what Arsene plans to do. Playing Arshavin in the centre is only one option, but I am sure that the Frenchman has plans to make him more than that, or even just replace him and mould them in, just like he did with Fabregas in 2004 when he was just coming out of the reserves and ready enough to play with the big boys.

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