After a turbulent four months in North London, Andrey Arshavin has finally ended his spell with Arsenal after making a free transfer back to his former club Zenit Saint Petersburg in his homeland Russia. He was one of a number of players released by the club at the start of this summer at the end of his contract, along with players like Denilson and Sebastian Squillachi, making him free to join a new club as he reaches the latter stages of his career.
There have been both highs and lows in Arshavin’s career, from scoring four in a game at Anfield in the 2008-09 season, to making just seven league appearances throughout the entirety of last season. Though a popular signing at the start of his time at the Emirates, many fans will feel he won’t be missed now that the midfielder has departed back to his home country.
This is now the 32 year-old’s third spell with Zenit, having started with the club in 2000 and making over 230 appearances before moving to the Premier League, and Arsenal, in early 2009. After two and a half successful seasons in terms of playing time, he moved back to the Petrovsky for the second half of the 2011-12 season in order to ensure he was in Dick Advocaat’s plans for Euro 2012. He played 10 league games in this spell, and was included in Russia’s squad for the Euros, which they unfortunately went out of in the group stages. However, Arshavin did start all of Russia’s games, and was statistically named the best midfielder based on his three appearances in the tournament.
After making just 11 appearances in all competitions, it was a shock to few when it was announced Arshavin would not be having his contract renewed by Arsenal, and many expected him to jet off back to Russia or another eastern European country. Despite clubs such as Anzhi being linked with a move to sign the player, Zenit were the only real contenders once they came in for him. They are Arshavin’s boyhood club, and a love for Zenitchiki could well have persuaded the midfielder where his future lied.
He signed a two year contract in recent weeks, and has already made his third Zenit debut in an away win at FC Krasnodar. He’s said himself that he’s delighted to be back in a Zenit shirt again, and given that’s where he has had all his success as a player, it’s understandable why. He’s won two league titles at Zenit so far, as well as domestic trophies in Russia, coupled with ones on the continental stage too. In 2008, they triumphed in the Europa League (then labeled the UEFA Cup) at Etihad Stadium with a 2-0 victory over Scottish giants Rangers, with Arshavin being named man of the match.
Arshavin joins a number of high-profile players now playing in the Russian Premier League, alongside players like Belgian international Axel Witsel, who signed for Zenit last summer from Benfica for just over £30 million. Zenit also possess talents such as Domenico Criscito, formerly of Juventus and Genoa, and Danny, a Portuguese international who has also played for clubs such as Sporting Clube de Portugal. These are just a few of the many talents that have now switched to playing in the Russian league, and I’m sure many more will also make that switch in the future.
Looking at Arshavin’s age, I feel he will be used as a first-choice replacement for Hulk, who looks set to leave St. Petersburg after just a season in Russia. Signing from Porto just last summer in a deal worth nearly £35m, his move to Zenit was a shock to many considering how heavily the Brazilian had been linked with a move to Chelsea at the start of the summer. However, the London club are now supposedly once again after the powerful international, along with their rivals Tottenham, who have already made some good purchases in this window such as Paulinho and Nacer Chadli. However, despite the interest from these two big clubs, Hulk looks set to join big-spending AS Monaco in a deal worth £52m, which would take the French club’s spending this summer to nearly £200 million.
This deal means Hulk will need replacing with a quality alternative, and although this deal will leave Zenit with a large budget to shell out for a replacement, I feel we could see Arshavin utilized as one instead, as they both play in the same position. However, the age could be a big factor deciding whether this happens or not, and at the ripe old age of 32, we could indeed see Luciano Spalleti’s team spending big to bring in a younger, better replacement instead of using the assets already at his disposal.
With Arshavin now permanently back in Russia after a four-year absence, it will certainly be interesting to see what effect that he can still have in the top flight, especially in a team who will be challenging for the title. Age can often be a factor that affects a player’s ability in their later years, but we haven’t really seen enough of Arshavin in the last year or so to judge whether this has been the case. Hopefully, we will see him have one last hurrah with Zenit, and finish off his career in style.