Andrey Arshavin was one of the most talented footballers Arsenal Football Club have signed in the last ten years. He offered Arsenal just about everything a forward should; pace, vision, passing ability, shooting, dribbling, the lot - not great in the air though...
In his first half season (he was signed in the January 2009 window), he made 15 appearances, scored six goals and made nine. At this juncture, our esteemed leader was keen to use Arshavin in his favoured role, essentially a wide player given a license to roam. His first league goal, against Blackburn Rovers, was a work of genius, he danced the ball in from the right wing, executing a flick finish from a ludicrously tight angle.
Arshavin went on to stagger Arsenal supporters and staff with a four goal haul against Liverpool at Anfield, the first time a player had scored four goals in away fixture since the second world war. This was a real player, someone who could score and make goals in bucket loads and had the unusual ability to change a game in an instant.
The following season, Arshavin scored ten goals in thirty appearances, the season after that he scored six in thirty seven. So what was the reason for these diminishing returns? Quite simply, when he was played, he was used a wide player, a winger prompted to push the ball down the line, to supply drag backs for the increasingly erratic Adebayor. To his credit, he plugged away, but it was clear to everyone that Wenger had lost confidence in the player and the Arsenal crowd, always very quick to turn on one of it's own (Ramsey the season before last for example), joined in.
It was only a matter of time before, Arshavin was loaned back to Zenit St Petersburg and he leaves a very shallow footprint in Arsenal's history. Arsenal supporters lack of appreciation of genuine talent is nothing new, I had contemporaries who loved, really loved Malcolm MacDonald (massively over-rated goal grabber), but couldn't stand Brian Talbot - who was twice as important to the team. Look at the abuse Gilberto Silva received, in actual fact, he was one of the most effective footballers I've seen in a red and white shirt. When supporters lament the lack of the club's success in replacing Patrick Vieira (impossible), what they really mean is we can't replace Silva.
This leads to me to my central concern over our new signing from Barcelona.
Firstly, it's critical he's played in his chosen position. Apparently, Sanchez is possessed of an open, good humoured personality. His disposition may need to serve him well. Although, he is keen to play through the middle (actually making runs in the old fashioned inside right and left channels), Wenger's comment that "we need to assess where he plays best - he is very flexible" causes more than a frisson of concern. He made his first start for Arsenal in the pre-season game against Monaco, Sanchez started on the wide right, with the comparatively pedestrian Giroud through the middle.
The result wasn't great, Arsenal were far more fluid the day before, when Joel Campbell and Sanogo played. It's great that Arsenal have options and the manager will be able to rotate the team this season, but he needs to know "his best eleven". In my mind, that entails Alexis Sanchez leading the line with Giroud being used as an impact centre forward.
Let's learn the lesson of recent history, play Sanchez where he can really damage our opponents. The only person happier about his signature than me and you, is Mesut Ozil.
By Ian Byrne
Follow me at @RightAtTheEnd