The Last Word: Is the wasting of Andrei Arshavin’s talent at Arsenal his fault – or Arsène Wenger’s?

It is impossible to believe no other manager could have played him better

You would like to have seen Roberto Mancini’s face on learning that his former employers, after limiting themselves last summer to the deadline-day signing of the Bristol Rovers tea lady and a janitor from Celta Vigo, had forked out £50m for two galacticos in the first week of June.

Albeit not, perhaps, quite as much as you would like to see the face of one of those new arrivals. Where the rest of us have a couple of bloodshot windows on to a mean, depleted inner life, the eyes of Jesus Navas are wells of ethereal mystery.

It remains to be seen whether  a Manchester winter will prove sensible therapy for an Andalusian who suffered chronic homesickness in his youth. Let’s hope that a new fortitude can help Navas, at 27, consummate his thrilling talent. Let’s also hope, then, that he doesn’t  bump into Andrei Arshavin  going through Heathrow.

Arshavin was the same age as Navas now when becoming Arsenal’s record signing, at £15m, in 2009. This week, his purgatory there was formally concluded by an announcement that his contract would not be renewed. Many Arsenal fans seem delighted. They depict Arshavin as a flimsy, indolent mercenary whose idea of regaining the ball is to slip back past a nightclub bouncer. Even those wishing him good riddance, however, should be asking not just where it all went wrong, but whether things might have turned out differently.

For his time here became a heartbreaking waste. Paradoxically, perhaps its saddest moment came a year ago, in Russia’s opening game at the European Championship, when he suddenly resurrected the world-class playmaker who had seduced Arsène Wenger at the same tournament four years previously.

The joy was back, the flair and wit that had inspired Zenit St Petersburg to the Uefa Cup, and eviscerated the Netherlands in Basel. Where had he been, this rosy-cheeked pixie who scored all four goals in that famous draw at Anfield, so soon after his arrival? And what kind of scandalous dereliction – on his own part, or his manager’s – could account for his banishment to peer over Wenger from the bench?

The day Arshavin signed, London lay under snow. Nobody could know the deeper permafrost also imported from Russia. This last season was a live interment, mercilessly slow, ultimately comprising 11 cameo appearances. He did not feature in the Premier League after January.

In the meantime he was trousering 85 grand a week as compensation for the squandering of his prime. His disenchantment doubtless became as manifest, in training and attitude, as it must be counted unsurprising. It was duly reciprocated by the jeers of those Arsenal fans who condense as well as any overpaid foreigner the air of entitlement that besets the Premier League. And it turned  out that his irritating, forefinger-to-lips goal celebration only anticipated the hush now pervading his entire professional life, at 32 years of age.

But if the situation has brought out the worst in Arshavin, then it has arguably done the same in his manager. In some stubborn recess of his personality, Wenger is perhaps secretly gratified to show what can happen when he listens to his critics, and actually spends money. For a man so reluctant to find the extra wages to keep his best players, he certainly pays plenty to those he doesn’t rate.

If Arshavin has a fragile temperament, it is impossible to believe that no other manager could have played him better – whether on or off the pitch. In the former respect, certainly, Arshavin has always flourished as nimble foil to a striker. All four goals at Anfield were scored cutting through the middle. Yet Wenger persisted in putting him out to grass, on the wing, even after the departure of Fabregas.

Arshavin’s flicks and feints, aimed through the heart of defence, were plainly too luxurious. Possession football is more conservative than its glamour implies. His defensive deficiencies, meanwhile, were exaggerated by those who ostensibly “replaced” Gaël Clichy behind him. Arshavin arrived, remember, to find the club’s biggest personalities itching to leave. He ended up behind Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey.

Navas, now there’s a proper winger for you. But would Wenger give him more latitude? Arshavin himself long had a reputation for psychological delicacy. His parents divorced, his father died young. Like Navas, Andrei was a hometown boy, joining a local football academy at seven. But when he had seen enough there – no less than here – he was accused of sloth and indiscipline.

Perhaps someone might have indulged him more judiciously in Italy or Spain – both on the pitch, as trequartista; and off it, as someone whose explanation for a fashion diploma (namely, as a ploy to meet girls) cannot ring wholly true, when you consider his broader artistry. As it is, the Premier League puffs out its chest and dismisses Arshavin as vain and shameless. It prefers lesser players, whose pride and pragmatism make them better men. As such, who is qualified to presume whether Arshavin first lost interest, or confidence? And who could blame him, on either count?

Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
McKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
i100
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker