Monday, January 10, 2011

Lay Off The Laid Back Russian

The most notable thing about the home support for the Leeds game was the sometimes vociferous abuse that Arshavin was being subjected to.

Boos and jeers were often audable. He bottled a one-on-one. He miscontrolled almost constantly, passed sloppily. Couldn't put a foot right.

Sometimes ITV cut to slow motion replays of rabid fans venting their frustrations.

He has become The Enemy Within.

There are parallels with the Eboue Situation of a couple years back, but also interesting differences.

Eboue was booed mercilessly during a home league game against Wigan. He had come off the bench and made some potentially costly mistakes. Towards the end, with Arsenal trying to hold onto a perilous 1-0 lead, Wenger had to substitute the substitute. He was clearly affected by the fans' wrath. He was going to pieces. Couldn't find a red shirt. As he trooped off, he was disconsolate, almost in tears. A horrible spectacle.

Arsenal's fans can be an unforgiving bunch. They fail to create the intimidating atmosphere that some other clubs have a reputation for. If the atmosphere is intimidating anyone this season, it's probably some of the Arsenal players.

Eboue is a grafter. The abuse he got was unsavoury. He makes technical mistakes because he is not a very good player but he works a lot harder than some of his more talented team mates.

The Arshavin situation is a little different because he is one of those talented team mates. Anyone who watched Russia during Euro 2008 knows that he is a terrific player on his day. Those days seem to have gotten more and more sporadic as his Arsenal career has progressed.

His attitude to defending is one of mild disinterest. And unlike, say, Robert Pires, who was lazy about tracking back but always used the ball in an intelligent and measured manner, Arshavin is frequently wasteful, seeming to clog the cogs of what should be a fluidly functioning machine.

He has seen Theo Walcott take his place in the team for recent big matches and his response has not been the one the boss must have desired. His performances have, if anything, worsened in the last couple of weeks, despite the eye-catching goal he scored at Wigan. That game summed up the Arshavin enigma. He scored one and set up the other of Arsenal's goals, but was otherwise a passenger.

It is hard, then, to argue with the ire of the Arsenal supporters. Their frustration is exacerbated by the knowledge that this is a team that cannot afford a lazy, free-floating winger, let alone an unproductive one. Robert Pires may not have chipped in with much defensive work but Arsenal had the likes of Vieira, Gilberto, Edu and Parlour back then. Back then, Wenger would often play with two players you could describe as "holding midfielders"; now he arguably doesn't even use one.

In short, Arsenal need a concerted, collective work ethic when out of possession, to offset their lack of physical power. Arshavin looks either unable or unwilling to be a part of that.

At the same time, the abuse he is now receiving will not do any good. By the end of the Leeds game, his confidence was shot to pieces. It may be that Arshavin can only play a fitfully effective part in the team's campaign for trohies, but the fans need to accept him for the flawed character that he is. If they continue to undermine him, he may lose his capacity to be that infuriating but vital part-time match winner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another great article big O. It was funny, some fans who were at the game said that Arshavin kept walking over to the touchline when we were making a sub, expecting his number to be shown. Someone said, however, that Wenger probably deliberately kept him on so as to avoid the 'Eboooue-style' reception.

Ps. I hate our home fans... but I love our away ones!