A tale of two strikers, two transfers, and ultimately two managers.
Dimitar Berbatov was not a hidden gem of a player until he joined United—he had two seasons of Premiership football under his belt playing for Tottenham. He had been in the shop window for long enough for everyone to see his strengths and weaknesses.
Andrei Arshavin, in contrast, had played all his career for Zenit Saint Petersburg in the Russian Premier League. His talents only came to light in last season's UEFA Cup win and Russia's march to the Euro 2008 finals.
Both players are of similar age, with Berbatov being only four months older than Arshavin.
As Andrei Arshavin's stock rose, many clubs were interested in signing him but balked at the initial £24m price tag. Arsene, being the wily operator, started a six-month long pursuit of Arshavin, culminating in his £16.9m transfer to Arsenal on the transfer day deadline on the 2nd of February 2009.
Ferguson also bought Berbatov on the transfer deadline day on the 1st of September 2008 for £30.75m. Ferguson had pursued Berbatov over the summer but was—apart from the last minute entrance of Man City—the only suitor of Berbatov.
Both became each manager's biggest signings of the season and their careers.
No matter how similar the circumstances were when they arrived at their new clubs, their impacts have diverged widely. Wenger is being hailed as the master of transfers yet again, whilst Ferguson has been lambasted at signing a player who has erased the memory of Veron, who must surely be toasting Berbatov for taking his mantle of Ferguson's single worst signing.
In 40 appearances Berbatov has scored 13 goals and made nine assists. Arshavin, in 10 appearances, has scored six goals and made five assists. Statistics alone cannot show the true picture of a player's worth, as desire cannot be measured—it can only be seen.
Take for example Berbatov's lazy penalty in the FA Cup semifinal against Everton and contrast it to the 70-yard lung-bursting run Arshavin made in the 90th minute to score his fourth goal at Anfield on Tuesday—would Berbatov have made that run? Definitely not at any stage of the match, let alone at the death.
Whilst Arshavin has seamlessly integrated into Arsenal's fluid play, attacking from all angles, Berbatov has disrupted United's cavalier football. United now retain more possession further away from the opposition goals, playing akin to an Italian team in the '90s—slow and controlled.
This has resulted in United scoring far fewer breakaway goals and scoring fewer goals in total. Ronaldo has been playing more as an orthodox right winger in a rigid 4-4-2, rather than last season's far more fluid 4-3-3.
Whilst Arsene will be content with Arshavin's performances (Arsene is only happy when he wins 6-0 playing beautiful football), Ferguson in private must be questioning his own decision. Ferguson enjoys nothing more than proving people wrong, but sometimes his stubborn streak can get the better of him.
As for Berbatov, unless he improves his performances radically—which remains questionable—then he will remain at United for as long as Ferguson's stubborn nature calls the shots.
But Berbatov should remember that when Ferguson snaps, it's a matter of moments before he will find himself out of the door. Ferguson has kicked out great players like Beckham, Stam, and Van Nistelrooy—adding Berbatov's name to that would be no problem for the red-nosed one.