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Guest Tulse Hill

Arshavin "I am an Arsenal fan"

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LONDON (AFP) - Arsenal midfielder Andrey Arshavin believes Arsene Wenger must splash the cash if the Gunners are to sustain their impressive start.The north London club have convincingly won their opening two Premier League matches against Everton and Portsmouth, as well as beating Celtic in the Champions League.But Arshavin fears Wenger's relatively small squad will struggle to cope when injuries and suspensions inevitably take their toll.The Russian compares the size and strength of Arsenal's squad to the likes of Everton rather than Manchester United and Chelsea.Arshavin told the Sunday Times: "We still have to buy. That's my opinion."We shouldn't set Everton as a benchmark, we should be looking at the top teams of Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona."We should buy first-class players, regardless of their age. We should buy the ones who should improve our game. The top teams have much bigger squads than ours and that is why we have to buy."

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He needs to shut up and get an assist

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Guus Hiddink speaks of his “stubborn, unbending character” but says it’s “what I like about Andrey”. Getting Andrey Arshavin to change his mind is like trying to get the ball off him. In May he was outspoken in his view that Arsenal needed to sign “two or three” players in the transfer window — and ones of established, trophy-winning capability, “not more potential”. Arsène Wenger disagreed. To many, Arsenal’s galloping start to the season proves their fans’ motto: Arsène knows.Everton routed, Celtic humbled, Portsmouth dismissed. And this by an Arsenal containing fewer established performers, with Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor summer departures and Thomas Vermaelen the sole arrival. Surely Arshavin thinks differently now? “No. We still have to buy. That’s my opinion,” he says.“We shouldn’t set Everton as a benchmark, we should be looking at the top teams of Chelsea, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona. We should buy first-class players, regardless of their age. We should buy the ones who should improve our game. The top teams have much bigger squads than ours and that is why we have to buy.”Arshavin is one of those ideal interviewees who say what they think, and what they think is trenchant, intelligent and quirky. But he can make you work. The Russian entered the room at 12.45pm yet the interview only truly began at 1.10pm. Between these times, the tape ran and Arshavin talked, but he jangled his car keys in ‘When-do-I-get-away-from-here?’ fashion and was semi-engaged.“At this moment I feel s***,” he had announced. “I didn’t sleep enough last night. The children [Artyom, 3, and Alina, 15 months] were keeping me up. It’s difficult to come and train on a day like this but what can I do?” I try an interviewer’s tricks but it would be easier breaking the ice of a Siberian lake. You can’t thaw Arshavin by appealing to his ego. (Me: “Tell me about scoring four goals at Anfield.” Him: “I think we should stop talking about what performance I showed last season. We should look into the future and talk about what performance I’m going to show then.”) Or by appealing to his interests. (Me: “I hear you were a schoolboy draughts champion and gifted mathematician.” Him: “That was a long time ago when I was very young.”). He appears wary discussing personal matters and tires of football talk. Then everything changes.I ask him to describe himself.“I’m lazy.”Really?“Yeah.”Give an example.“I don’t like to train a lot.”Usain Bolt says something similar, that despite making a living through physical exertion he is not its biggest fan.“Yes ... that’s why he does every time shorter and shorter . . .”I laugh. Our interpreter laughs. Arshavin’s face melts into a smile. From then, the answers pour freely.Why was cracking a joke important? It’s the anarchy of humour. It means something memorable has happened, that the conversation has veered away from predictable paths — and Arshavin’s existence, on the pitch, in life, could be described as a quest to be distinctive.He recalls “Smena”, the Zenit St Petersburg academy where he was coached daily from the age of seven. “In the former USSR there was more emphasis on the youth team winning its tournaments than developing star talents,” he said. “But thankfully I was never told to stop dribbling by a coach. Even if I had, I’d have stuck to my game.”This is why he is here, at Arsenal, to give the arch-practitioners of ensemble football an individualist’s twist. When Wenger completed his signing from Zenit on February 3, for £15m, having tracked Arshavin since his supernova performances at Euro 2008, it felt counter-intuitive.Arsenal were outside the top four, having drawn or lost half their League games, and most agreed that what the former Invincibles lacked was midfield and defensive muscle. So their manager bought a 5ft 7in attacker. Results improved markedly and what Wenger had understood is a favourite thesis of Andy Roxburgh, Uefa’s chief coach, who argues that in an age where athleticism and scientific coaching makes football ever more systematised, the “soloist” player becomes not less but more important.Arshavin, able to shoot with both feet, dribble deftly, play the unexpected pass, take up the unseen position, is an old-fashioned matchwinner.“I think football’s similar to chess but a more simple game. Pass and move. Sometimes goal. That’s it,” Arshavin says. “Tactics count but what’s relevant is the quality of the players. If everything depended on tactics, the clubs would not be spending so much on stars. An individual can break any system, that’s why star players — like Cristiano Ronaldo — are the key to a particular game.”Arshavin has a unique knack for playing “on the edge ... in zones where defenders can run with him but cannot attack him,” Hiddink says.“All I can say is I do what I see,” Arshavin says. “It depends on the situation. You should be able to see and make a decision before you receive possession, whether to dribble or pass ... though of course if I had a chance to hold on to the ball for 90 minutes I’d be doing that, I love to be engaged with the ball. What I do is organic to me, natural.”Does this make it difficult for him to remain patient with teammates blessed with less sharp football brains?“Oh yeah. Sometimes I do not understand the partners I am playing with. But it’s not always their fault, often I’m to blame.”He believes “you can see every player’s character in life on the field” and we talk about an aspect of his. He missed the first two games of Euro 2008 through suspension, after being red-carded for retaliation six minutes from time in Russia’s final qualifying game against Andorra. Temper. “[As a child] I was always up in your face and telling you what I think. Once I tore the school register from the wall. I always had arguments with teachers and was expelled.”Ronaldo also threw tantrums at school and other great players — Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona — had problems with anger management. “Maybe it’s because we want to be noticed everywhere, not just on the field,” says Arshavin, smiling. “We want to be the first ones, the best, wherever we are, to stand out.”When he was expelled Arshavin moved to a school opposite the factory where his mother worked. Her shifts were long and she could not pick him up until 7pm. The other children were collected at 5pm and every day he waited for her alone. She was the key figure in his upbringing — his parents divorced and his father, a gifted amateur footballer, died of heart failure aged 40. Arshavin once said, in a Russian interview, he wanted to marry his mother when a boy. Seriously?“I think at a certain age we all think our mother is our ideal, so if you are looking for your ideal wife you look for your mother and for your wife to be this person.”Has Mrs Arshavin watched her son play for Arsenal? “Yes, of course. She was proud. But then I’m always the best player for her, even if I spend the whole game on the bench.”Arshavin has a typically unusual take on London. “Everybody says it’s a very busy city where there’s loads happening but my perception is that it’s relatively quiet. Certainly compared with Moscow and St Petersburg. Though I guess I’m living more a professional’s life than when I was in Russia,” he said.Arshavin fought to move to Arsenal — almost going on strike at his former club — despite knowing a transfer was not in his best interests financially. “If I’d stayed with Zenit I would be earning more than now,” he noted.Leaving the Russian League was about sporting fulfilment. “I wanted to see what real football looks like,” he said. “I wanted to see what the game is like when you play for a world-class team and play only on world-class surfaces and meet only star players every week — as opposed to having to travel to play at half-demolished stadiums, sometimes with artificial pitches, where the result of your game can depend on what the referee is feeling like that particular day. I’d won pretty much everything in Russia and if I’d stayed it would have been known that Andrey Arshavin was a very good player for Russian football, but he was not required anywhere else in Europe. When I go back I want people to say, ‘Yes, there are good footballers in Russia’.”He is 28, in his prime, and covetous. “I want to win the Champions League, I’d prefer that to the Premier League,” he says.It is why, despite his huge respect for Wenger (“all the top managers I’ve worked with, like him, have a ‘something’ that’s hard to describe”) he is anxious, with the transfer window closing, that his manager makes signings. “When you sell players of that calibre you’re bound to lose something,” he says regarding Toure and Adebayor, but declines to suggest which positions need strengthened.“I’d rather not comment. I don’t think that would be appropriate. Arsène understands where improvement needs to be done.”PREMIER LEAGUE RUSSIAN IMPORTSAndrey Arshavin is not the first Russian to illuminate the Premier League. Since its inception in 1992-93 the league has also featured:ANDREI KANCHELSKIS Shakhtar Donetsk to Man Utd, £650,000, 1991DMITRI KHARINE CSKA Moscow to Chelsea, £400,000, 1992ALEXEY SMERTIN Bordeaux to Chelsea, £3.45m, 2003ROMAN PAVLYUCHENKO Spartak Moscow to Tottenham Hotspur, £14m, 2008YURI ZHIRKOV CSKA Moscow to Chelsea, £18m, 2009
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