By Chris Harris
Most Arsenal fans' knowledge of Andrey Arshavin extends to his exploits at Euro 2008 last summer and those customary online clips of his goals and assists.
But what can we expect of the Russian international now his move to Emirates Stadium has finally been completed? What are his qualities as a footballer? How quickly is he likely to adapt to English football? How will he fit into the Arsenal side?
For a more in-depth view of Arshavin the player, we spoke to Jonathan Wilson, an expert on Eastern European football and author of 'Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football'.
Jonathan, how big a deal is Arshavin's move to Arsenal?
"I think for Arshavin it’s a huge deal. He was pretty keen to leave last summer after he had those two great games against Sweden and Holland at Euro 2008. I think he realised then just how good he was. Before that, I don’t think he was aware that he could do it on a European scale. So I think he was looking for a move but stayed because of Zenit’s Champions League campaign.
"They didn’t have much luck in that campaign - it was derailed almost as soon as it started - so for Arshavin the last six months have been difficult. His interest seemed to have waned and he was substituted in five of his last seven League games for Zenit."
How significant is it for a player to leave Russia for England?
"I think for Arshavin, he’s 27, he has to move now if he was going to move. In terms of money he would be fine staying in Russia because, although Russian football has to be careful in the economic climate, Zenit would be one of the two or three teams who can ride out that storm. You have to have solid backing to sustain the wages and outlay we’ve seen in Russian football recently.
"So, financially, Arshavin would have been fine staying, but the truth is that the Premier League is the biggest league in the world. It gets the most exposure, the most coverage, and for Arshavin it is an opportunity to prove himself, to prove he can cope outside the Russian League."
What are Arshavin's strengths as a footballer?
"I keep hearing people say that ‘he’s only played two good games’, referring to Euro 2008, but the fact is he was brilliant in those games against Sweden and Holland.
"He only played three games in total at the Euros and, OK, he was disappointing against Spain in the Semi-Final. That was partly because Marcos Senna marked him very well but it was also because Spain played 4-1-4-1 when David Villa got injured and managed to push back the Russian full-backs. Part of Russia’s game had been the way the full-backs got forward, and playmakers need players moving around them. Arshavin was clearly restricted by Senna but, equally, he didn’t have those players moving around him. It’s very easy to blame the playmaker for what is actually a systemic failure in the team.
"So if I was an Arsenal fan I wouldn’t be too concerned about the fact that Arshavin didn’t show in that game. I think I’d look at the two games before that when he was absolutely magnificent. He dominated those games from midfield in a way I haven’t seen anyone do since the days of Michel Platini. To be honest I didn’t think it was possible for someone to dominate like that so I think he really is a very special talent.
"He’s quick, he’s sharp, he reads the game very well, he is a typical Arsène Wenger player in that he seems to have a very acute understanding of where other players are on the pitch. Technically he’s very good, he is diminutive, but he is top, top class."
Like Russia, Arsenal push their full-backs forward and have a fluidity about their attacking play. So Arshavin will fit in well, won't he?
"Yes, that’s true. If Arshavin comes into the team and they have that movement, he really will fit in well. He could be the catalyst for Arsenal to show more movement going forward than they do at the moment. If they get him in there and if he starts spraying the ball around like he can, it will encourage more movement from his team-mates."
With Fabregas and Rosicky to come back, Arshavin should also have a number of players on the same wavelength...
"Yes. If you look at the squad, the hole being filled by Arshavin is the one left by Alexander Hleb. He is in that mould because his passing is very precise, but it’s a very exciting prospect where you have a midfield of Nasri, Fabregas, Arshavin and perhaps Van Persie playing wide in a 4-1-4-1."
Do you expect the timing of the Russian League to affect how quickly Arshavin settles at Arsenal?
"It could be a problem for him. He hasn’t played football since November so I think it will be a good two or three weeks before we see him start to come through. Arsenal fans need to be aware that this could be a player for next season and not necessarily this season.
"It’s very easy to assume that, because Arsenal have injuries to Walcott, Fabregas and Rosicky, that Arshavin will fit in immediately and add a creative spark. But there’s a good chance he won’t have an instant impact because the Russian League ended in November and he didn’t really play at his best just before that.
"He has kept himself fit but he did not play in any of Zenit’s three pre-season friendlies. It’s a long time since Arshavin played a match so we should be very cautious not to expect too much too soon.
"But the flipside of that is if Arsenal can cling on and are still in the hunt come March, they suddenly get Arshavin finding fitness and their injured players back, that could be a real boost."Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 4 Feb 2009