Andrei Arshavin is an attacking midfielder for Russia and Arsenal in the English Premier League. He can play in any of the advanced attacking positions, though his magical touches are usually at their best in the centre of the pitch, where he can operate in the ‘hole’ between attack and midfield. He has a superb touch and vision, but was a late developing footballer, much like Zinedine Zidane, who has seen his best form come only as he reached his late twenties.
Andrei Arshavin was born on 29th May 1981 in Leningrad, which has now been renamed St Petersburg. He showed some potential as a child footballer – with extraordinary control of the ball, and an ability to create time and space for himself when he was on the ball. He progressed through the Smena football school, and signed his first professional contract, with Zenit St Petersburg, at 17 years old.
Having signed for his hometown club, Arshavin was very settled as he began making his way through the reserve teams to the first-team. His first two seasons were played for the Zenit reserves, with the occasional call-up to the first-team squad when extra cover was needed.
Andrei made his debut in June 2000, aged just 19, but failed to establish himself in the first-team. Arshavin’s small frame meant that he was sometimes bullied off the ball, whilst he also took a little too long on the ball for some of the fans!
By the start of the Russian 2001 season, Arshavin had bulked up enough, and took a first-team spot. The fact that he was able to play as a right-midfielder, winger, advanced central-midfielder or striker ensured that he was regularly in the side, though he failed to make any position his own.
It was only in 2007 that Andrei Arshavin came to prominence. His performances for Zenit in the league led them to the league title, and a spot in the UEFA cup, for the first time in years. He team was built around Arshavin, with manager Dick Advocaat giving Andrei a free-role alongside the more industrious Shemshov.
Zenit St Petersburg triumphed in the 07/08 UEFA Cup, beating notable teams along the way as well as Glasgow Rangers in the final. Their free-flowing football ensured that the big European clubs sat up and took note.
As captain of Russia in the 2008 European Championships, Arshavin had another chance to prove his class. Manager Guus Hiddink played him in a similar free-role, and Russia unexpectedly progressed to the Semi Finals, with Arshavin the man pulling the strings at Russia’s heart in much the same way as Juan Roman Riquelme did for Argentina.
Barcelona, Spurs and Arsenal all lodged bids for Andrei, hoping to snatch him from Zenit. Whilst Arshavin agreed to taking pay-cuts to join a European great, Zenit were in a less generous mood, and refused to let Andrei move for less than £22m, which Barcelona baulked at. Andrei finished the Russian 2008 season, but vowed to move on.
Andrei Arshavin arrived at the Emirates on February 2nd 2009, with the paperwork taking him from Zenit to Arsenal finalised in the last few minutes of the transfer window. Zenit were offered just £14m, with additional clauses, but were forced to sell Arshavin or face losing him for nothing in the future.
Arshavin took the number 23 shirt, and is expected to help Arsenal to clinch a Champions League spot.
Despite playing for the Russian national side since May 2002, Arshavin only became a house-hold name across Europe with his performances in the 2008 European Championships. Despite being suspended for the first two games, Arshavin was included in the squad, and named their captain.
He came on in the third group game and had an instant impact, scoring one and creating the other. A similarly brilliant performance in the next game had tongues wagging, and Russia forced their way into the Semi-Finals, only losing to the eventual winners, Spain.