Some performances as a football fan stay with you for a long time.
Especially if they come from places you never expected. A pleasant surprise so to speak. There is always this affection with lazy geniuses in football. You might not see them putting in the miles and winning the 50/50s but the few times they do the unthinkable, those moments stay.
They may not deliver every time, but this hope of seeing the hare come out of the hat keeps these rusty magicians on stage. Arshavin was one of them.
In his Arsenal career, he never had a spell anything quite like that magical night at Anfield.
This performance came from a player who was in form and had started off with a flyer with goals v Blackburn and other lower half teams. But the magnitude of this performance was mind-blowing. It could have been Thierry Henry or Dennis Bergkamp such was the brilliance.
In this piece, we try to remember that performance and quantify how great it was.
Andrea Arshavin was a highly sought after player at that time. After leading Zenit to a league win in 2007, their first-ever, and then won the UEFA Cup in 2008 with them. In the summer, he impressed for Russia in the Euro 2008. These performances led to him being nominated for the Ballon d’Or that year finishing 6th in the final rankings just above David Villa and behind Xavi.
As he himself revealed after moving to Arsenal, a move to Barcelona after Euro 2008 was on the cards but never truly materialized. Similarly, he was also linked with Tottenham.
But Arsenal won the race to sign him, snapping him up for £15M after intense negotiations throughout January with the transfer being announced on the 2nd of February.
After a brief adaptation period due to the football season having ended in Russia, Arshavin took to the Premier League like a fish to water.
Before his debut, Arsenal were in a rut with five consecutive draws, four of which ended 0-0 with only one goal scored in their last three fixtures. The Champions League spot is always a bone of contention and this goal drought made that worry for Arsenal with Aston Villa and Everton prying on the fourth spot.
After taking two games to settle, he quickly started to influence games. His first assist came in a win against West Brom. In his next game, he scored a beautiful individual goal and assisted a further two to win it for Arsenal. Then, he assisted a few more goals in the cup as well as an assist vs Newcastle. So there was a definite crescendo to this virtuoso performance but no one could have predicted what happened that night.
Andrea Arshavin is the only away player in Premier League history to score four times at Anfield.
In his first 15 appearances for Arsenal, Arshavin racked up six goals and nine assists also helping Arsenal to finish in the top four spots guaranteeing Champions League Football.
The table position in this game was such that a draw would have only leveled up Liverpool and United on the table with Liverpool leading on goal difference. The only problem being that United had two games in hand.
Liverpool had taken 28 points out of a possible 30 in the last ten games of the Premier League season that year. The only two points they dropped were by this Arshavin masterclass. All this culminated in Liverpool losing out to Manchester United who ended winning the league by four points.
Had Liverpool won that night, the pressure on United would have been mounted even further. These title races have a funny way of swaying from one side to the other and crunch moments like that famous Anfield night are what end up deciding them.
The match itself was a treat to watch with both teams throwing no caution to the wind. Albert Riera was playing in place of Gerrard, and Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres were upfront for Liverpool. It was an almost full strength side desperate to put pressure on United.
Arshavin opened the scoring in the 36th minute with a well-worked team move. Torres equalized early in the second half with Benayoun giving the lead to Liverpool. Arshavin smashed in a glorious second to level up proceedings following it up with another after a failed clearance from Arbeloa. Torres made it 3-3 in the 72nd minute and it remained so until the 90th minute after a devastating counter left Liverpool shell shocked and Arshavin getting a glorious fourth add signaling to the crowd in surprise giving us a legendary Premier League moment. Benayoun equalized late in the game to deny Arshavin and Arsenal winning the game.
Such was the efficiency of Andrea Arshavin, he scored four goals of the four shots on target for Arsenal that night.
The end to end stuff in this game was so much like a basketball game. Geoff Shreeves in his post-match interview asked Arshavin whether it felt like basketball to which he responded
“Yes but I can not score 90”
Despite all his problems, he still scored 23 goals in 105 Arsenal appearances. He also racked up 17 assists in the 2010-11 season. But the promise of that night in Anfield remained unfulfilled.
In retrospect, this game raised the expectations of Arsenal fans who always looked for something of this caliber from the mercurial Russian.
There were sparks of brilliance, but for the remainder of his two and half years at Arsenal before being loaned back to Zenit, he never quite replicated such artistry as he did that night. But as this piece was written more than 11 years after that famous performance tells, sometimes just once is enough to last you a lifetime.