By Charles Scott
Location aside, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham have little in common, something that suits their own fans down to the ground. They do however share one similarity. Each has invested large sums of money on highly rated Russian internationals in recent years without seeing any kind of positive return. Despite promising much and impressing at first, Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin, Tottenham’s Roman Pavlyuchenko and Yuri Zhirkov, formerly of Chelsea, have all failed to shine in London.
The three sides had high expectations of their Russian stars following their outstanding performances at Euro 2008. Guus Hiddink’s side had Pavlyuchenko to thank for getting them there as it was his two goals against England that sealed Russia’s place in the tournament, and though the forward went on to perform well at the tournament itself, it was Arshavin who was Russia’s crowning jewel that summer.
After missing the first two group games through suspension Arshavin returned to the side against Sweden, and was instrumental, scoring one and setting up the other as Russia strolled to a 2-0 win. His achievements in the game against Sweden earned him the Man of the Match award, a fete he repeated, and some, during Russia’s 3-1 win against a seemingly imperious Holland side in the next round.
Despite limping out against the eventual winners Spain in the semi-final, their win against Holland was one of the standout games of the tournament and alerted Europe’s elite to the talents of Arshavin, Pavlyuchenko and Zhirkov.
All three arrived in London over the course of the following 2008-9 season for transfer fees totalling more than £40m. Zhirkov’s stay at Chelsea was short-lived, with his appearances often limited to cup competitions. He returned to Russia last summer when he joined Anzhi Makhachkala. Remarkably, despite little playing time and few eye-catching displays Chelsea somehow recouped 13.2 of the £18m they paid for him two seasons before.
Surprisingly Pavlyuchenko and Arshavin still linger at Tottenham and Arsenal, despite falling foul of their managers, fans and – if Robin Van Persie’s facial expressions on Sunday are anything to go by – in Arshavin’s case, also his team-mates. Yesterday’s top of the table clashes that saw Tottenham narrowly defeated by Manchester City and Manchester United edge past Arsenal were notable for the performances, or lack thereof, from the two Russians that had terrorised defences at Euro 2008.
Arshavin’s introduction in the second half was met with a chorus of boos from fans at the Emirates, and to compound his misery he was then culpable for United’s winner when he allowed Antonio Valencia far too much space down the right. Pavlyuchenko meanwhile, despite Emanuel Adebayor being ineligible due to his loan deal from City, did not even make it off the Tottenham bench.
With Zhirkov gone, and Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko both set to follow; their crime is failing to live up to expectations and their seemingly inevitable punishment: a swift departure from the Premier League.