Andrei Arshavin Is One of the Great "What Ifs"of Arsene Wenger Era at Arsenal

Ian RodgersWorld Football Staff WriterJune 5, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20:  Andrey Arshavin of Arsenal with the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on August 20, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The departure of midfielder Andrei Arshavin from Arsenal brings an end to a time which once promised so much for the Russia international.

The Gunners have confirmed that Arshavin, Denilson and Sebastien Squillaci will all be released from the club when their contracts expire at the end of this month, as ESPN reported.

For many, however, the release of Arshavin will be a case of what could have been.

The former Zenit St Petersburg forward arrived in North London in February 2009 after impressing for his country in the European Championships of the previous year.

Despite being suspended for the first two group matches, Arshavin proved to be the catalyst for the Russians to march into the semifinals after scoring twice and setting up two other goals, including in the quarterfinal defeat of the Netherlands, as BBC Sport reported.

Russia could not match Spain in the last four, but Arshavin had made his mark on the European game, and the Gunners broke their club record to sign the forward for £15.9 million, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.

The striker made an immediate impact when he scored four times at Anfield to earn a 4-4 draw with Liverpool in one of his first games for the club, as BBC Sport reported.

Arshavin was also voted second by Arsenal supporters in the club's Player of the Year awards, despite having only arrived in February, as the official club website reported.

Arshavin began his first full season in similar good form, including a great 20-yard strike in a 2-1 defeat at Manchester United.

A further credit to Arshavin's Emirates Stadium career came with his winning goal in the 2-1 Champions League win over Barcelona in 2011. But these highlights were few and far between.

It is arguable that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger played a part in Arshavin's lack of form, as he was played out wide rather than in a more central role in which he had previously excelled.

Arshavin also became a victim of the fall of Arsenal from Premier League challengers to also-rans, as bigger-spending clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City began to challenge United.

The midfielder's form and confidence dropped, and he returned to Zenit on loan in February 2012, where he made 11 appearances and scored three times.

His return to Arsenal allowed him to mark a century of Premier League appearances for Arsenal this season, but the swagger and confidence which had lit up the Emirates in his early days at the club were long gone.

In total, Arshavin made just 11 appearances for the Gunners this season and scored just once, in a Capital One Cup win over Coventry City.

Arshavin will now leave Arsenal as one of the great disappointments of the Wenger era, with many left to wonder "What could have been..."