The career of Andrei Arshavin has, for so many, boiled down to a single week. On June 18, 2008, he returned from a two-match suspension for Russia to star in a 2-0 win over Sweden, the final group game of EURO 2008. Three days later, in the quarter-finals, the little maestro set the world alight in Russia's 3-1 extra time triumph over the tournament's form side, the Netherlands.
Praise was emphatic and worldwide; comparisons were incredible - he was even being mentioned as a potential Ballon d'Or winner - and then he played Spain. The eventual winners of the competition produced a masterclass to take care of the Russians in the semi-finals on June 26 and Arshavin was completely shut out of the game.
In the space of two hours, he had gone from a potential Real Madrid, Barcelona and Milan target to a player that his agent tried desperately to seal a move to a Champions League club, only to end up embarrassingly going back on his word and haggling with Tottenham Hotspur. The only other club that had offered were Barcelona, of whom an almost desperate Arshavin made it clear he was a lifelong fan. The Blaugrana only tabled €15m and were laughed off by Zenit, who were initially asking for double that amount.
Spurs, knowing Zenit St. Petersburg were being forced into a sale, waited and waited for the transfer fee to come down. An agreement wasn't reached and the 27-year-old remained with his hometown club, whom he had just led to the Russian Premier League and the UEFA Cup with some stunning performances.
With January looming and Arshavin's star enshrouded by the clouds of some miserable Champions League performances, only one club have made an approach for him. Arsenal, underperforming as they have been so far this season, entered into negotiations to sign the man many fans wanted in the summer ahead of Samir Nasri.
Speculated interest from other clubs has not materialised and it seems only a matter of time until Zenit either cave or sell for a humiliating price in the summer. Just how has it come to this for a player of such undisputed class? Goal.com Russia's chief editor, Sergey Glebov, gives the view from eastern Europe.
"After EURO 2008, he has played best for Zenit in the Champions League and for his country," he said. "He hasn't really bothered in domestic Russian games."
What may be worrisome for Arsenal is Arshavin's failure to hit top gear during his side's brief stay in Europe's premier club competition - but that appeared to be more of a team failing than one that can rest solely on his shoulders. His performances were largely around the mediocre 5.5-6.5 bracket in Goal.com's player ratings - though he was particularly impressive on one occasion, garnering an 8 during his side's unfortunate home defeat against Real Madrid.
Despite the fact they are destined to lose their star to one of Europe's glamour leagues, the press in Russia still speak highly of their hero. "The Russian press love him, because he was the best players at the EUROs, which was a brief highlight for a team that has failed to perform in the last 20 years," continued Glebov. "He is in his prime, but that's a disadvantage, because he won't progress any further."
Such words would usually ring alarm bells in the ears of a man like Arsene Wenger. "The public think he will play at this level for another year or so, but then everything will go downhill." The criticism continued: "He's also considered an unstable player; he'll play well in two or three important matches, but then go into a kind of withdrawal."
Inconsistent, expensive and on the wrong side of 25 (which, in Wengerland, is the new 35) - is this really the man for Arsenal? With the Gunners the only side bidding for him, it seems we're about to find out.
"Everyone thinks that he will leave Zenit either way," said Glebov, before explaining the complications behind the club's inability to complete a deal. "The people that manage Zenit are 'far from football' - they don't want to sell him and don't care about the money because Zenit is owned by Gazprom."
Arshavin is a player of incredible ability. Drifting slightly off the forward line, he has the trickery to trouble full-backs on the flanks and packs a precision pass that can dissect the most resolute of defences (to which Rangers fans will tearfully testify). He scores goals and creates chances at will, but is perhaps viewed as something of an unproven entity - whether that is a fair assessment or not - and a luxury. Though picking up a 27-year-old will ensure a complete player, there remains the overriding fear that the only way for him is down. What a difference a game can make.
Sulmaan Ahmad, Goal.com