Arshavin signing demonstrates Wenger intent to regain leading position
Arsene Wenger is a winner. This is clear in his obsession for football and his absolute frustration when a win is not achieved.
Arsene Wenger is equally an idealist. He will not satisfy his desire for winning through the easy route of spending loads of money on hyper-inflated transfer fees that will potentially bankrupt the club. And he will not spend vast sums of money on players who don't fit his aesthetic vision of how football should ideally be played.
This is why Wenger has preferred a 'bottom-up' policy in recent years: that of buying players very young at relatively low prices whom he can mould into his style and vision of how football should be played. Young players tend to be cheaper than players in their prime - and they are more maleable for development into a specific way of playing.
This method was always going to involve some patience on the fans behalf as they witnessed their rivals spending plus £20 million on a regular basis on 'prime-time' players. That being the case, Wenger's young Arsenal went very close last season to winning the Premier League title and enjoyed a solid Champs League run that was cruelly snatched away in a tumultuous finish at Anfield.
Buoyed by the progression of his young third generation squad, Wenger placed his faith in them to push on again this season. He witnessed the departure of Hleb and Flamini with reluctance but tellingly his only signings again were youngsters: Samir Nasri of Marseille and Aaron Ramsey of Cardiff. Such was his belief in the likes of Denilson, Diaby and Song to push through this season he saw fit to allow the veteran leader, Gilberto, to leave to Panathanikos at the end of the summer.
However, the first half of this season has been the most rocky of Wenger's eleven years at the club. Leading players failed to recapture the form of last season; the captain, William Gallas was fed-up with perceived disrespect of younger players and broke convention by telling all to the media; long-term injuries were sustained by the new captain Fabregas and the magnificent young superstar Walcott; and fans were shuddered by such events as losing a two goal lead with barely minutes to play against Tottenham and defeats to newly-promoted Stoke and Hull City.
In the last two and a half months, Wenger has steadied the ship. At the worst points of this season he protected his players from widespread criticism from fans and the media alike with amazingly optimistic comments that had bemused listeners at the time - but now make sense. He knew how fragile his young players were in what was their first major challenge of their careers - and he determined to shield them from the effects of that rather than publicly adding to the refrain.
This was excellent and smart man-management/team-management - and the result has been a slow, but steady, rehabilitation in results and performance by a side lacking its main focal point, Cesc, and its most dynamic forward, Walcott. Indeed, this paternalism by Wenger may be looked back as one of his finest hours; that when really tested he stood firm against all those who wanted him to publicly criticise his team and express an acceptance that he needed to revamp his team.
That all being said, Wenger knew that his young squad was in need of a boost of talent and experience and that the current perceived image of Arsenal as a slightly fading force on the national and European scene was in need of some restoring. In this context, his targeting and eventual acquisition of the Russian captain and super-talented roving attacker, Andrey Arshavin, is, if anything, an outward signal to all those doubters by Arsene Wenger that he is determined as ever for his club to be a major winning force into the future.
Andrey Arshavin is not in the mould of Wenger signings in the recent years because he is clearly a player in his prime who has years of experience already behind him and whose market value will not be much higher than it is now. It is a reversion to the types of signings we saw years ago made by Arsene Wenger like that of Sol Campbell, Marc Overmars, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Gio van Bronckhurst, Sylvain Wiltord: players entering or in the prime of their careers who can perform straight away at a level to gain near enough instant success.
It can be interpreted as a sign that Arsene Wenger's patience is not everlasting; that he feels he has been necessarily patient in the last few season as his young players have developed but that the time for success and winning trophies is now. Therefore, his signing of a special player who is in his prime; who can deliver fantastic play and tangible success now rather than in a few years.
I look forward to when Cesc, Walcott, Eduardo and Rosicky returns and how Arshavin will complement with these excellent attacking footballers as well as RVP, Nasri, Vela and Adebayor. With Arshavin as a link-man in the final third of the pitch the potential to create chances and score goals will be very high. And his aesthetic style of play will fit perfectly into Wenger's idealist vision of achieving winning plus total-football.
There is much to play for this season and Arshavin will hopefully have make a quick impact on the team. But my sense is that it will be next season with a fit squad and a level starting-field that the Russian playmaker will come to the fore as he plays his part in getting Arsenal back to the vision for the club that Arsene Wenger and the fans share: winning consisently, competing for honours, and doing so with fantastic style.
Good on you Wenger for signing Arshavin, and all the best Andrey!