Ian Herbert: Russian's minimalist touch wreaks maximum damage
Andrei Arshavin is the first opposing player to score four at Anfield since the 1946-47 season
Wednesday 22 April 2009
There was something faintly curious about the diminutive Russian who was so desperate to leave his homeland for Britain that he threatened to go on strike when Zenit St Petersburg would not let him go. Tottenham gave up on buying Andrei Arshavin in the end and it was only in the depths of January, that Arsène Wenger so obviously bereft of striking options, dispensed with his disinclination to spend big and signed the man. You sensed he might somehow not live up to that "Russian Pele" tag he earned after his displays had brought him to international recognition at Euro 2008.
No one is in any doubt about who Arshavin is this morning. The first opposing player to score four at Anfield since Dennis Westcott for Wolverhampton in the 1946-47 season, has registered a serious dent in Liverpool's title hopes and you wonder how on earth he has not managed to score four before in his career.
In large measure, Liverpool's defensive failings allowed him to do so. Fabio Aurelio, in particular, will struggle to clear a ball more awfully than he did by placing it at the 27-year-old's feet, effectively handing him his hat-trick. But the manner of his finishing revealed a lot about why Wenger broke Arsenal's transfer record and spent £11m on a player who cannot even play for him in the Champions League (Arshavin is cup-tied, having played for Zenit St Petersburg). Arshavin has seven goals in as many games for Arsenal now, demonstrating last night his good left foot but also his ability to unleash a formidably powerful shot from either boot and with minimal backlift and exquisite technique, both feet off the ground as he delivers a shot.
This was a battle of strikers for much of the second half, Fernando Torres and Arshavin each doing their darnedest as the balance of the game lurched back and forth. If there were not so many years of agony resting on it, you would have thought it was all an elaborate plan from the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, to do away with those who mutter dark things about him and his conservative ways.
Torres was a leader, just like he has been since that night here last month when he pinned Spanish reports of Real Madrid's contempt for Liverpool to the inside of his dressing-room door and proceeded to take them apart. His two goals were the obvious part. It was also Torres who dispossessed Kieran Gibbs to give Dirk Kuyt the ball he lofted for Yossi Benayoun at the far post, taking Liverpool ahead at 2-1. You knew what this result meant to Torres when Arshavin approached him as the teams left the field. He could not escape fast enough.
Arshavin's involvement could not have contrasted more. Barely more than four touches for his four goals. There had been some more ghosts of 20 years past scuttling around Anfield before the game, as Liverpool fans remembered how Michael Thomas, in one of the same yellow shirts Arsenal wore on this occasion, scored the second goal which took the title away from Liverpool in 1989. They only won it once more before the start of the barren domestic era Benitez is trying to lead them from.
There was no burst of yellow, storming through on goal from midfield as things turned out, but time alone will tell whether Arshavin might join Thomas in the list of Gunners who have done for an Anfield title.
It is Benitez's hope that the Russian at least wreaks the same damage on Manchester United in the league on 16 May. "He said he needed more time to settle in and get better," Wenger said of the Russian last night. "If he needs more time I'm happy to see him getting better."
Race for the title: Remaining games
Man Utd Tonight Portsmouth (h), Sat Spurs (h), 2 May Midd'bro (a), 10 May Man C (h), 13 May Wigan (a), 16 May Arsenal (h), 24 May Hull (a).
Liverpool Sat Hull (a), 3 May Newcastle (h), 9 May W Ham (a), 16 May W Brom (a), 24 May Spurs (h).
Chelsea Tonight Everton (h), Sat W Ham (a), 2 May Fulham (h), 10 May Arsenal (a), 17 May Blackburn (h), 24 May Sunderland (a).
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