Arsenal: 4 Things Arsene Wenger Must Do to Get Andrei Arshavin Back to His Best
We've all seen what Andrei Arshavin can do. Words sometimes cannot express the magic the Russian maestro produces in games.
Whether it was leading Russia on a sensational run to the Euro 2008 semifinals (including a shock upset of the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, when Arshavin was a shade under unstoppable), or silencing Anfield (both with his celebration and his play), the man is capable of moments of Papiss Demba Cisse-esque individual brilliance.
Not many, if any, can do what Arshavin does when on form. There are few players who can rival his individual industriousness. The man is simply a genius at times.
But like many of the great geniuses of antiquity, he is prone to crippling bouts of inconsistency.
As any Arsenal fan can tell you, the Arshavin we see today is a far cry from the one that once brought the Premiership to its knees upon first joining the Gunners back in 2009.
He will always be remembered for his four-goal thriller at Anfield, but many forget that one of the Russian's best qualities in that initial season was his ability to provide assists.
Arshavin had four assists through his first seven games in an Arsenal shirt, turning provider when the Gunners needed him most. His goals were often vestigial imprints of the sublime.
But that seems to have deserted him now. There's still the odd flash of brilliance, but it has become overshadowed by his frustrating normalcy. He should be excelling; instead he is stagnating.
Currently on loan with former club Zenit St. Petersburg until the end of the season, Arshavin may well find himself wearing an Arsenal shirt next season.
If that turns out to be the case, here's four things Arsene Wenger can do to get the Russian back to his best.
Move Him from the Wing to Attacking Midfielder
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When he has the chance to play centrally, as he does with Russia to oft-times devastating effect, Arshavin comes alive.
The work rate of a winger has never been something he's taken to, and while some may knock that as a blight in his makeup as a footballer, it is up to the manager to put his players in the positions in which they can have the greatest possible effect on the team.
For Arshavin, it is obviously the middle third of the pitch. Arsenal's troubles at attacking central midfield have been well-documented this season—Aaron Ramsey's form has been indifferent, and Tomas Rosicky, while often excellent, has suffered lulls in his own production in 2012.
It would have seemed that Wenger had the perfect player for that position all along, and he never decided to use him.
Allowed to play as the attacking central midfielder against Bolton in the Carling Cup last October, Arshavin, who had been in sputtering form all season, was excellent.
Even Wenger cooed about his production (a goal and an assist on the night), saying that Arshavin "always has a big impact on the game."
When he's played in the right position, he certainly does.
Get Him over the Psychological Hump
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Mike Conley, a guard on the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA, had found the transition from college to professional basketball a trying one.
Excellent while at Ohio State, Conley had looked tentative in the pros, often looking to delegate to teammates and remain on the fringes of the action.
Then he spent four days with a sports psychologist in the summer before the 2010-11 season, dissecting old game film and trying to rediscover the player who had looked set to flourish with the Grizzlies.
It worked. Conley upped his scoring, assists and steals to career-high levels that season, and has been even better in the current postseason.
Arshavin could likely do with some aid in the psychological department. Distraught after failing to reach the 2010 World Cup with Russia, Arshavin never seemed to make a full recovery.
He's obviously prone to bouts of depression, which then impinge upon his obvious talent. Working with sports psychologists, according to Lee Jenkins, who authored the afore-mentioned Sports Illustrated article, has become much more common in the professional ranks.
If it helps you play better, what's the harm?
Make This Loan Deal Count
Arshavin has said he will wait until the end of this summer's European Championships to decide where he will play next season.
By all accounts, his spell in Russia has been a revitalization of sorts, with the Russian bubbling about the move.
"Without a doubt it was the right decision," Arshavin told Sport Express. "There are many reasons why.
"First of all, I am now playing, and that is paramount for any player as training is no substitute for matches. Second, I have returned to my hometown. Third, Zenit have done everything to make me feel comfortable and my thoughts are now only focused on football."
He's scoring goals again, one of the more recent strikes a sumptuous volley that will remind many an Arsenal fan of some of Arshavin's finer finishes for the club.
Let Arshavin Be "Arshavin"
One need only look at how far Inter Milan fell from their historic Mourinho-led treble in 2009-10 to slumping to ignominy this season, with many of the same players still marching out onto the San Siro pitch for each match.
Even Wesley Sneijder seemed a level above his normal playing capability while he was managed by Mourinho.
Arshavin can exert the kind of Sneijder-sized influence that once took Europe by storm during the 2010 playoff stages of the Champions League. He just needs to have his manager's confidence.
That comes with bestowing the central midfield position upon Arshavin. That game against Bolton was by far one of the most impressive performances of his Arsenal career, and it came during a spell when he was considered to be foundering. (He made just eight league starts for Arsenal this season.)
Neither Ramsey nor Rosicky, Arshavin's two greatest competitors for that attacking midfield job, have had a game this season where they provided both a goal and an assist.
And it was Arshavin who unlocked the Queens Park Rangers defense back in December with this excellent slide-rule pass into the path of Robin van Persie, who coolly slotted home to give Arsenal the only goal they'd need for a 1-0 victory.
That tells you something. Arshavin can be enticed to play at his best, when he feels he has his manager's faith. The Russian is the type of player who needs a longer leash if he is to be at his best.
By this time, Wenger should know that. The Frenchmen felt the Russian needed a loan deal to get his confidence back, when in fact he might have just needed a change of position.