Arsenal hope to announce today that they have finally signed Andrei Arshavin for a club record £15m fee, which could rise to as much as £17m, after a day of extraordinary brinksmanship that, for several hours at least, left the deal severely in the balance.
The Premier League club are confident that all the paperwork to complete the transfer of the Russian international, who has agreed a four-and-a-half year deal, was completed in time although they had to cope with a ridiculous amount of obfuscation and confusion from Zenit St Petersburg.
They were also awaiting confirmation from the Premier League that all the documentation had been received in time for their 5pm deadline although with the three-hour time difference to Russia and with Zenit's directors in various degrees of incommunicado – one was in hospital, another in Africa, relying on a third to sign the papers – Arsenal were arguing they deserved some leeway. "It was completed in extra-time but we must wait for confirmation," said Arshavin's agent Dennis Lachter, who added: "in 16 years this has been the most difficult transfer ever."
The final delay on the deal – once a fee, personal terms and a medical were agreed and with Arsenal being assured a work permit would not be a problem – was an amazing wrangle between Arshavin and Zenit over who was entitled to his signing-on fee which amounted to more than £2m.
Arsenal, against their wishes, agreed to pay the fee in full but also refused to get involved in the argument. Zenit claimed that Arshavin owed them half the fee because he wanted to leave, and break a four-year contract he had signed, and that they had lowered their initial asking price to make the deal happen while the 27-year-old was adamant that he was entitled to the money because the Russian club had touted him around and wanted to sell.
The events of the day were a microcosm of what has taken place over the past five weeks as Arsenal have attempted to sign Arshavin. The player and his advisers will claim that they did everything possible to push through the transfer having flown into London on Sunday evening and then positioning themselves in a Hertfordshire hotel close to where Arsenal conduct their medicals. Twice yesterday Arshavin was told the deal was dead but hung around, because of the adverse weather as much as anything else, before gradually each of the hurdles preventing a transfer was cleared.
And then Zenit told both the news agencies, Reuters and Associated Press, that the deal was dead while Arsenal sources were remaining far more optimistic even though it was clear the deal was an extremely close run thing and the deadline may have, technically, been breached.
For Arsenal fans the signing Arshavin, who is expected to take the number 13 shirt vacated by Alexander Hleb when he left last summer, will come as a relief, even if many question whether or not they needed a player in his position, as a second striker or attacking midfielder, when there are obvious problems with the make-up of the rest of the squad.
Given that Arshavin has not played a competitive match since the end of the Russian season, before Christmas, and and has been in Dubai undergoing warm weather training with the rest of the Zenit squad, then Wenger may have also had concerns over his fitness. Arshavin did not take part in any of Zenit's three friendly matches during their two-week stay on the basis that he would be securing a transfer during the window.
Arsenal also insist they did not budge on the payment plan – £12m up-front with £3m in instalments – that they had proposed. But there appears to have been some movement on the signing-on fee to bring them closer to Zenit's valuation.