The Russian international Andrei Arshavin has visited the Arsenal training ground and expressed a desire to join the club this month but the £22m fee demanded by Zenit St Petersburg is still proving a huge obstacle. Arshavin is understood to have visited in the same week that Spartak Moscow played Tottenham Hotspur in the Uefa Cup.
The Zenit playmaker, who shone for Russia in Euro 2008, had been touted around the top English clubs but the financial demands of his club have proved the stumbling block. The complications of dealing with various different interested parties in the player have also made a transfer difficult but Arsenal have still maintained their interest.
Arshavin, 27, whose domestic season with Zenit finished in November, was in London when Spartak played Spurs on 18 December. He is being represented by the Ukraine-based agent Dennis Lachter, who confirmed yesterday that there is still a long way to go in negotiations. It is understood that Arshavin was also offered to Spurs that week he was in England but they declined to take it any further.
Arsenal's new chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, recruited from Major League Soccer in America, starts work at the club this week and is pitched straight into a major international transfer. He will be assisted by the club's long-serving director Ken Friar. Arshavin's wages are already thought to around £70,000, at the high-end of what is paid in the Premier League.
If Arsenal spend anything like £20m on Arshavin, he would comfortably be the most expensive signing in the club's history. Jose Antonio Reyes cost around £11m in January 2004 and the whole deal was worth around £17m. As a player who can operate on the left wing or behind the striker he is not the holding midfielder many feel Arsène Wenger needs most. Wenger has often cautioned against buying players on the basis of a performance in an international tournament. Arshavin is also cup-tied for the Champions League.
Zenit, who finished sixth in the Russian league last season and are out of the Champions League, have been desperate to sell him. They held on to the player in the summer when his stock was highest after Euro 2008 because they had made the Champions League for the first time in their history. However, after beating Manchester United in the European Super Cup final they were poor in the Champions League and failed to get beyond the group stage.
Zenit's Dutch manager, Dick Advocaat, said that Arshavin would leave in January. "I am aware that Arsenal are interested but I don't know any more than that," he said. "However, I am expecting Arshavin to leave Zenit for another club. He is a top player and he could play for any team and any of the top teams in England, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool.
"He was voted player of the year by the sportswriters last season – and we know they know everything! Arshavin played well for us last season but he didn't play as well as he can. There is still more to come from him. In principle, I have already bought Arshavin's successor, Danny, because I thought Arshavin was going to leave last year."