One more player to keep a close watch on is Andrei Arshavin. Any player that gifted who also finds and starts burning reserves of determination and commitment is bound to shine, and Arshavin sent out a positive signal by electing to stay at Arsenal – despite being out of contract in 2013 – in the face of positive overtures from wealthy Russian suitors in preseason. He has since provided a string of important and eye-catching moments that helped Arsenal’s cause, and proved he still has a valuable part to play for the club – whether from the bench or starting matches. One was the cross that led to the winning goal in the last ten minutes against QPR, another his positive performance in the 7-5 comeback against Reading in the Capital Cup, and he also weighed in with the assist for Santi Cazorla’s damage-limitation goal against Manchester United that was important from a psychological standpoint. He then created the penalty that gave Arsenal a chance to win the match against Fulham yesterday afternoon that was subsequently passed up by Mikel Arteta. If Martin Jol’s allegation that Arshavin deliberately struck the ball against Fulham right-back Riether to get the penalty is true, it will only add to the estimation of some that he is a true original, a player whose quick thinking and off-pitch humour and interests manifest charmingly in his play. While it is a shame that his Arsenal career has not gone as well as some may have hoped after he announced himself with four goals in a single match against Liverpool, there may be yet be a final chapter to the Arshavin story waiting to be played out. If he joins Wilshere, Cazorla et al in hauling Arsenal up from the abyss they are currently staring at, he will be remembered for more than just fleeting moments of magic and brilliance.
If there is one reason for beleaguered Arsenal fans to refrain from completely losing hope over Arsenal’s chances this season, it is the return of Jack Wilshere. His comeback brings more with it than the addition of a very good player, and one who will help Arsenal regain a modicum of the composure in possession that was once their hallmark and was alarmingly bereft in the crazed draw with Fulham yesterday. He also brings qualities of passion and fearlessness to his play that have too often been missing from Arsenal’s players in recent times. In the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, there was nothing more exasperating than the sense that Arsenal’s players – apart from a brief ten-minute spell at the start of the second half – were too afraid of their opponents to rise to the occasion and play their best football. While they were cautiously passing the ball from side to side near their own goal in the first half, perhaps more worried of making a mistake than of daring to take a positive step forward, there was only one player who remembered what it meant for Arsenal to play Manchester United and what it demanded: when Jack Wilshere wholeheartedly crunched into a tackle on Robin van Persie, he displayed a stirring sense of pride in his club – all the more heart-warming because of how absent it was from his team-mates’ play – alongside a determination to correct their slide into impotence. It was a lionhearted tackle from a player who may yet become a lion-heart for his club and provide the missing spark of inspiration to jolt a group of players paralysed by fear into action. Their performances in recent weeks may have understandably led them to privately lower their sights but Wilshere was having none of it, talking this week of how Arsenal may need “a miracle to win the Premier League”, but they now needed to treat each fixture “as a cup game” as his club are too big to abandon the hunt for the big trophies. That tackle and that determined statement from a player who bristles with pride and commitment were rare, and significant, moments of optimism in the troubled last few weeks for Arsenal and throw into stark relief just what a gem of a footballer and personality he could be for the club.
At this stage, where his devotion has also not been tempered by the more career-focussed considerations of older players, one also detects that he will not let the failure of many at Arsenal to match his quality and commitment lead to a change of heart on his long-term future. For the time being, he will do everything in his power to haul Arsenal up to where they need to be and, if that crunching tackle and those stirring statements were just the beginning of a long and fruitful re-acquaintance with Arsenal, its fans may have reason to look to the future with a little more excitement and hope than they had previously thought.