Can Pogrebnyak be a Russian revelation after a string of flops?

The Weekend Dossier: Arshavin has familiar company as Russia’s Premier League restarts – Roman Pavlyuchenko will be playing for Lokomotiv Moscow

Arsenal play on Merseyside this lunchtime without the player who produced arguably their finest individual performance at Anfield, though he remains on their books. In April 2009 Andrei Arshavin scored all Arsenal's goals in a 4-4 draw against Liverpool, the marquee display of such an impressive start at the club he was runner-up in their Player of the Year poll despite signing only at the start of February. The £15m signing seemed the man to revive Arsenal's fortunes.

Three trophyless years later Arshavin will today play in Moscow, against CSKA for Zenit St Petersburg. The midfielder remains an Arsenal player, but so much on the fringes he felt the need to return to Russia to retain his sharpness ahead of Euro 2012; significantly Arsenal were content to let him go. "He is only on loan, he is still our player," insisted Arsène Wenger yesterday, but how long that remains the case must be in doubt. Arshavin's contract expires in June 2013 and if he performs at Euro 2012 anywhere near as well as he did at Euro 2008 Arsenal will be tempted to cash in.

Wenger suggested Arshavin's poor form this season was due to a lack of self-belief. "I just felt he needed to play," said the Arsenal manager. "When you are 31 and you do not play regularly, you drop your form and when you come on every time you have to produce something special. At that age it is very difficult. I felt he needed a bit of confidence again."

History suggests there is rather more to it than that, for Arshavin has some familiar company as the Russian Premier League restarts after the winter break. This afternoon Roman Pavlyuchenko will be playing for Lokomotiv Moscow; on Monday Diniyar Bilyaletdinov is likely to make his debut for Spartak Moscow.

All three players started the season in England, Pavlyuchenko with Tottenham Hotspur and Bilyaletdinov at Everton. None succeeded in nailing down a regular start and have returned to cement their places in Russia's Euro 2012 campaign. Given a weak group, and geographical familiarity, Dick Advocaat's side will be dark horses, a status they confirmed by a 2-0 win in Denmark on Wednesday in which all three players figured with Arshavin, the captain, scoring.

Also featuring in Copenhagen was Pavel Pogrebnyak, who arrived in the Premier League, at Fulham, just as his compatriots were leaving. Pogrebnyak came with less fanfare, sneaking in as the deadline-day window closed on a short-term loan from Stuttgart. To Fulham fans he seemed an uninspiring replacement for Queen's Park Rangers-bound Bobby Zamora. However, "The Pog" has since scored well-taken goals against Stoke and QPR. Has Martin Jol found a star?

If he has, Pogrebnyak will buck a trend. Not many Russian footballers travel outside their borders – Pogrebnyak was the only player in this week's squad based outside Russia. Those that do, travel badly. The only one to play on the winning side in a Champions League or European Cup final is Dmitri Alenichev, a goalscoring substitute when Jose Mourinho's Porto won in 2004. Russians have made little impact in England. Pogrebnyak is the eighth to play in the top flight with only the first a success, goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine who played 146 matches for Chelsea including the 1994 FA Cup final. Despite being burgled on his first day in England he was obviously happy in the country – he is now goalkeeping coach at Luton. Yet even Kharine is remembered with fondness rather than reverence. The others, like Arshavin, have had their moments, but they have been few and far between.

One Russia international did shine, Andrei Kanchelskis, whose wing-play was a big part of Manchester United's Premier League titles of 1993 and 1994. Yet while Kanchelskis chose to play for Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed, he was born and bred in Ukraine and neither lived nor played in Russia until 2004 when he was 35.

That said, it is rare for any player from the former Soviet Union to shine in England. Aleksandr Hleb, of Belarus, did well at Arsenal, Latvia's Marian Pahars scored 45 goals at Southampton and Estonian goalkeeper Mart Poom had decent spells at several clubs, but the rest, from high-profile figures such as Ukrainians Andrei Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov, to Bristol City's Moldovan Ivan Testemitanu and Macclesfield's Lithuanian Andrejus Tereskinas, have usually been ineffective.

This is always the case for players from eastern Europe but given that Croats and Poles have often been successful, but Bulgarians and Romanians less so, it seems that the more westernised a country is the easier its players settle. Which is logical. There is a significant culture clash, not helped by the languages using a different alphabet. The only British footballer to play in Russia, Scot Garry O'Connor, learned hardly any Russian and failed to settle.

Jol is optimistic Pogrebnyak will be an exception. "There is a difference if you come from a latin league but he's come from the Bundesliga," the Fulham manager said yesterday. "It's still a big leap but it's very similar to here. There has been a lot of stuff written about Russian players not doing well here, I think he will feel it's very nice to prove to everyone they can. We took a risk but we have plenty of information on him."

The Dutchman spoke to his compatriots Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, past and current Russia coaches, about Pogrebnyak. Jol should also benefit from the striker absorbing their emphasis on Russia playing with greater discipline and a higher tempo. Jol is wise, though, to insist, after Pogrebnyak's goals, that "two games do not make a summer". When Pogrebnyak starts mangling English idioms the same way we'll know he's settled.

Eastern promise? Premier League Russians

Russian; Years; Clubs; Fee

Dmitri Kharine; 1992-99; Chelsea; £400,000

Alexei Smertin; 2003-08; Chelsea, Portsmouth, Fulham, Charlton; £3.5m

Andrei Arshavin; 2008-12; Arsenal; £15m

Roman Pavlyuchenko; 2008-12; Tottenham; £14m

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov; 2009-12; Everton; £9m

Yuri Zhirkov; 2009-11; Chelsea; £17m

Pavel Pogrebnyak; 2012- ; Fulham loan

Five Asides

1 The most qualified English candidate is... Hodgson

Stuart Pearce argues that his tournament experience makes him a valid candidate to manage England at Euro 2012, if not beyond, but he is not the only domestic coach who knows the ropes on the big stage. Roy Hodgson managed Switzerland at a World Cup – in 1994 – and learned much from the experience, not least that in picking a squad character is as important as ability when it comes to considering the fringe players.

Hodgson's unhappy time at Anfield seems to have blighted his candidacy but no Englishman is better versed in the international game, the 64-year-old also having managed Finland and UAE and clubs in Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. He has been back in the English game for five years, long enough to know the players, and is excellent at organising teams.

2 Football's riches are being suicidally squandered

Michael Lewis's book The Big Short makes clear that most of the financial world did not realise that the logic behind mortgage-backed securities was so flawed that a crash was inevitable. By contrast, it is blindingly obvious that football's financial model is suicidal – Aston Villa's need to sell players despite a £25m hand-out from Randy Lerner is as illustrative as the serious problems at Rangers, Portsmouth and Port Vale. Football has never been richer, but the windfall is being squandered through greed, mis-management and bad governance.

3 Old masters don't collect new superstars' wages

The national galleries of England and Scotland this week bought Titian's Diana and Callisto for £45m, following the 2009 purchase of its £50m companion piece Diana and Actaeon. Does that put the price of footballers in context? It rather depends on your perspective, but while galleries cannot lure afficionados into paying £50 every fortnight to admire their purchases, neither do the paintings have to be paid £150,000 a week.

4 Wembley turnout was an international victory

England may have a caretaker manager and captain but the fans are permanent. Despite the chaos around the national team 76,000 turned out at Wembley, twice as many as saw Germany v France. The Irish drew 37,000, rather more than Spain v Venezuela's 25,000, and Italy v USA's 15,000.

5 The cameras are turned on Tyler's non-Leaguers

Seeking a break from the Premier League prima donnas? Try Kingsmeadow (ESPN, Wednesday, 6.30pm) a fly-on-the wall documentary about Ryman League Kingstonian filmed by Adam Tyler, son of the Sky commentator (and Ks coach) Martin Tyler.

This weekend's team news...

Liverpool v Arsenal

Odds Home 11-10; Draw 5-2, Away 14-5.

Kick-off Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Kenny Dalglish awaits updates on Steven Gerrard (hamstring), although Glen Johnson is expected to feature. Jamie Carragher replaces Dan Agger (rib) in defence. Arsenal have doubts over Robin van Persie (groin) and Thomas Vermaelen (ankle); Aaron Ramsey (ankle) is out.

Blackburn v Aston Villa

Odds Home 11-8; Draw 12-5, Away 2-1.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news David Dunn (thigh) returns from injury for Blackburn but Martin Olsson (knee/ankle) is a doubt and Jason Lowe and Gaël Givet remain suspended. For Aston Villa, Darren Bent (ankle) is out for the remainder of the season but Stiliyan Petrov (thigh) returns. Stephen Ireland could support Gabriel Agbonlahor up front.

Man City v Bolton

Odds Home 1-8; Draw 15-2, Away 20-1.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Roberto Mancini has no new injury worries over his Manchester City side. Carlos Tevez has returned to training but remains short of fitness. The visitors await updates on Mark Davies (hamstring) and Kevin Davies (knee), as well as Gretar Steinsson (calf). Dedryck Boyata is ineligible against his parent side but Joe Riley returns.

QPR v Everton

Odds Home 9-4; Draw 23-10, Away 5-4.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news The hosts are without Djibril Cissé and Samba Diakite through suspension, although Luke Young (hamstring) returns to contention. Everton welcome back Nikica Jelavic from a groin injury, while midfielders Jack Rodwell (hamstring) and Leon Osman (knee) could be recalled, but Darron Gibson (knee) misses out.

Stoke v Norwich

Odds Home 5-6; Draw 5-2, Away 7-2.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Robert Huth returns from suspension for Stoke City, while Glenn Whelan will undergo a late fitness check. Norwich could give a debut to Jonny Howson after the midfielder recovered from a knee injury, but James Vaughan (hamstring) and Marc Tierney (knee) remain out and Daniel Ayala (hamstring) is short of fitness.

WBA v Chelsea

Odds Home 16-5; Draw 12-5, Away 10-11.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news West Bromwich Albion have doubts over Jerome Thomas (hamstring), while Chris Brunt (foot) and Paul Scharner (rib) are nearing returns to the first team. Daniel Sturridge (toe) and Didier Drogba (knee) should be available for Chelsea, but Jose Bosingwa (hamstring) is a doubt and John Terry (knee) remains out.

Wigan v Swansea

Odds Home 6-4; Draw 9-4, Away 15-8.

Kick-off Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1, 10.20pm)

Team news Wigan will make late checks on Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa after both travelled to South America on international duty this week, while Gary Caldwell (leg) is expected to recover. For Swansea, Michel Vorm returns from a virus, while Danny Graham has shaken off the same illness. Kemy Agustien (ankle) is out long-term.

Newcastle v Sunderland

Odds Home 11-10; Draw 12-5, Away 5-2.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 12pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Team news Papiss Cissé (groin) should recover to partner countryman Demba Ba up front for Newcastle, while Alan Pardew also hopes to have Cheick Tioté available, but Shola Ameobi (illness) is a doubt. Sunderland will give a late check to Stéphane Sessègnon, while Sebastian Larsson (illness) and Nicklas Bendtner (ankle) are also possible returnees.

Fulham v Wolves

Odds Home 4-7; Draw 11-4, Away 11-2.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 2.05pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Team news Mahamadou Diarra could make his debut off the bench for Fulham, but Stephen Kelly (quad) is a doubt and Dickson Etuhu will be assessed. Steven Fletcher returns from illness for Wolves, while Wayne Hennessey and Dave Edwards should have recovered from ankle injuries.

Tottenham v Man United

Odds Home 15-8; Draw 12-5, Away 7-5.

Kick-off Tomorrow, 4.10pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2, 10pm)

Team news Tottenham remain confident Gareth Bale (hamstring), Kyle Walker (ankle), Rafael van der Vaart (calf) and Ledley King (knee) will feature, but Scott Parker is suspended. Chris Smalling (head) is a doubt for Manchester United, while Wayne Rooney (throat) returns to the squad.

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