Talk to any Arsenal fan and you will receive strong reactions about Andrei Arshavin.
No one argues about Arshavin’s talent, but too often he disappears during the game or frustrates fans by appearing to lack a sense of urgency.
When Arshavin is playing at his best, he can dazzle with a rare combination of skill, speed and vision. This was on display in 2009, when he scored four goals against Liverpool at Anfield, but he hasn’t produced enough on a consistent basis to satisfy the Arsenal faithful.
During his Arsenal career he has played mostly as a winger or attacking midfielder, but he is one of the most creative players on the field and can make something out of nothing with a pass or run.
A key example of the two different Arshavins have been the first two league games of this season. Against Newcastle, Arshavin was unselfish and created scoring chances by playing more centrally in the midfield.
Just before half time, Arshavin flicked a ball over the defense to Robin van Persie for one of the better scoring chances. It was also one of the few times where van Persie had a decent ball played into him instead of trying to create a scoring chance on his own.
Against Liverpool last Saturday, Arshavin played in more of a winger role in the lineup, and at times he disappeared. When he got the ball, he tried to create on his own too much and ended up causing needless turnovers.
With Arshavin’s creativity and ability to take chances, the best role for him would be to take over Cesc’s role in the midfield and create scoring opportunities on his own. He looks to pass first but can also score goals from outside the box, so defenders would have to respect his shooting ability and give him room to work in the center of the pitch. He can also distribute the ball to van Persie, who looks lost without Cesc on the field.
Eventually, Jack Wilshire and Aaron Ramsey will hold down the midfield, but it is a lot of pressure for two players that young to be thrown into a full-time role like that. Also, by playing in the center, Theo Walcott and Gervinho can use their speed on the wings to stretch the defense for the midfield to create chances.
Most fans would rather see Arshavin on the bench or come on as a super sub. But in the center, he’ll be on the ball constantly, so he won’t feel like he’ll need to do too much and will avoid carelessly turning the ball over.
Arshavin is already 30, and this will be his third season in the Premier League. As such, he won’t be overwhelmed with the role and can add a presence that Arsenal is very evidently missing since Cesc left.