So now that it appears official that Andrei Arshavin has left Arsenal to go on loan with Zenit for the remainder of the season (the Russian confirmed as much via his twitter account – @AndrArshavin23 – by saying simply “It’s done.” just after the Russian transfer deadline had passed), let’s take a quick moment to reflect on all the wild and varied reactions that have come out as this news broke today. As I see it, there are basically three camps:
(1) Those that like Arshavin, and see him as getting a bad rap or as a scapegoat for the squad’s underperformance over the past two seasons, and accordingly are none-too-thrilled with the decision to let him leave for the remainder of the season. Let’s call these folks “Arshavin Apologists,” shall we?
(2) Those who think Arshavin is nothing but a lazy, overrated, worthless pile of dung, and who cheer his exit as a prototypical case of addition-by-subtraction. Let’s call this lot the “Anti-Arshavin Association” or “AAA” for short.
(3) Those more in the middle, who see Arshavin for both his many flaws, but are also able to appreciate the moments of brilliance and explosive potential that he brought to Arsenal when he was in form. They speak not in emotional terms about their love for Andrei, or how he has harmed them personally and emotionally, but rather think about the implications of the move to the club as it is. Let’s call this last group the “Realists” (and yes, you can basically tell which camp I fall in just by reading the monikers I have given to each of the three respective groups).
As it is already obvious that I count myself in the later group, let me just cut to the chase and explain why I’m a Realist, and not an Arshavin Apologist or a AAA member. I am bothered by this turn of events, but not because of the player Arshavin has been for Arsenal, but rather because of the timing and my inability to reason out why things have transpired as they have. Aside from delivering a splendid cross for Thierry Henry to put home to beat Sunderland a couple of weekends ago, Arshavin hasn’t brought much to the table this season for Arsenal. He has been relegated largely to substituted duty, and even those appearances have been dwindling since the first of the year. I have heard suggestions that either his teammates or the coaching staff, or both, have grown tired of his play. I don’t know if any of that is true, but if that is the case I understand wanting to get rid of him, but why like this? If Arsenal was going to dump him just to be rid of him, the time was during the January window, so there would at least be the possibility of reinvesting the £1 million they received from Zenit for him in the club this season. If the money can’t be spent to bring someone in to help the club this season, then why ship him away now?
All that is accomplished by loaning Arshavin out at this point, after the transfer window in England has closed, is to be rid of his presence, and to have one less option should further injuries befall the club in the last three months of the season. I know he hasn’t been great, hell I know he hasn’t been much of anything, but he’s at least got the potential to be something, and I’d rather have the potential of something than nothing when it comes down to it. Arsenal are out of all competitions except the Premier League, so they won’t play much more than once a week from here on out, so I get that the need for a fourth-favorite winger isn’t great the rest of the way, but this should be all hands on deck time at The Emirates. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever use him in the best-case scenario, isn’t it better to have Arshavin around just in case, especially when the team is clinging to 4th place and a Champions League spot by a thread?
I’ve really only heard one valid explanation as to why loaning Arshavin out now makes sense, and it’s this: either (a) Zenit plan to make the move permanent at the end of the season, or (b) even if that’s not the case, he will at least be playing for Zenit regularly, and as such has a chance to up his value before his inevitable permanent transfer in the summer. This rationale makes sense to me; I still think it’s a little risky, but at least it makes sense. Arsenal knows Arshavin will be gone, and this is his best chance to make the club more money when he leaves. It’s a calculated risk.
I guess I’m just more concerned about doing everything possible to hang on to 4th place, so I’m a little more risk-averse right now, which is why I’d prefer Arsenal keep Arshavin and dump him over the summer. If Arshavin flounders in Mother Russia and some combination of Walcott, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain go down to injury, and Arsenal doesn’t qualify for the Champions League, the handling of Arshavin will be pointed to by those calling for Wenger’s head. Of course if Arshavin shows a spark with Zenit, and Arsenal finish 4th without him, Wenger looks like a genius. Wenger is putting his chips on the table with this move, we just have to wait until the end of the season to see if he’s got the nuts.