OK, this is a bit of a risk.
Chin up, deep breath, clench buttocks: here we go… no, hang on a minute – unclench buttocks (it’s making me want to wee a little). That’s better. Now, for real this time, here we go:
The EPL Player of the Year for the 2011/12 season will be…
Before you laugh, shout or go back to Teenage Latin Lovelies, let me point out that, at Arsenal, there is a precedent for what you might call the delayed prediction.
At the start of the 2002/3 season Arsène Wenger proclaimed that his team were capable of going a whole season unbeaten.
Most people were highly skeptical about this suggestion and some were brutal in their ridicule. They said that in the modern age, with so many demands on the top teams from so many competitions, it could never be done.
Arsenal failed to win the EPL that season, finishing five points behind Manchester United. Many of Arsène’s critics remembered his “unbeaten” comments from back in August 2002. In fact Arsene had been careful not to say that his players would go through the season without experiencing defeat. He merely said that they could.
Most journalists ignored that subtle difference and took joy in pointing out that, far from going unbeaten, Arsène’s men had lost six times in the league that season.
The following year Arsène (and we) had the last laugh. The Invincibles went unbeaten for 38 games, history was made and those same reporters who had been ridiculing Le Boss 12 months earlier were suddenly writing breathless articles about whether this was the best team ever to grace the English top flight (it was).
In a nutshell Arsène had been right with his prediction, but just a little premature – and which of us hasn’t had that problem once in a while?
Which brings us back to our diminutive Russki.
Now I would hardly wish to compare myself with our esteemed manager, but a year ago I predicted that Andrey would be the Player of the Season. Not just for us, but for the whole EPL.
It’s fair to say that that prediction was quite spectacularly wrong. Despite a tidy goal return and an excellent assist record Arshavin had, at best, a mediocre season. Perhaps even a poor one for someone with his talents.
Regardless of the stats, we fans could see that the little Leningrader was often peripheral to the action; he frequently lost possession and seldom tracked back. And some us thought that, well, he had been overdoing the borscht a bit. He may have been only a few pounds overweight, but when you’re the size of a mouse that’s going to show.
But what if, like Arsène, I have come up with the right prediction at the wrong time? What if I’m proved correct – a year later on.
I happen to think it’s possible, and here’s why.
- First, no-one can question Andrey’s innate footballing talents. He is rightly regarded as one of the most skilful players in the world. If you doubt me, go to YouTube and take another look at his four-goal performance against Liverpool.
- Second, after some rough treatment from the fans during last season, I thought he really sorted out his effort and work ethic in the last part of the campaign. His tracking back and tackling earned many a resounding cheer in those later games (when there was not much else to cheer about). I think it finally began to dawn on him that English fans don’t approve of ‘luxury’ players who don’t pitch in when the opposition have the ball.
- Third, although Russia’s inability to make the World Cup last summer should have meant he would come back to Arsenal fully rested and fired up to succeed, in fact I think it was a serious blow to his morale. He was his country’s captain and the failure weighed heavily on him.
- Fourth, in pre-season this year he looks slimmer and sharper and, while other illustrious members of the team seem to be searching for the escape tunnel, he has been talking a good game.
- Fifth, if Cesc goes to Barcelona (as I believe he will) it could be the making of Andrey. The style of play we created to maximize Cesc’s talents meant that the Russian really was peripheral – in the literal sense. He was pushed to the left of the field and forced to play as a winger. Without Cesc I expect him to get the chance to play more centrally, possibly in the Dennis role or with a greater roving brief – and that will enable his gifts to bear more fruit.
I can’t imagine many of you will agree with me, and I fully understand why. The question is, was last season evidence of his powers beginning to wane (and his performances for Russia arguably support this theory)? Or was it an aberration, caused in part by the crushing disappointment of not getting his country to the 2010 World Cup?
We shall see.
OK, I’ve got my tin hat on – over to you.