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Goodbye, Sweet Prince

As his contract comes to an end and he bids farewell to Arsenal and the fans, I want to appreciate Arshavin for bringing joy to such a serious game.

Shaun Botterill

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Work while it is today...something, something...One today is worth two tomorrows...something else." Now, that might not have been quoted correctly, but it does remind me of a poem that reads like this:

Mr. Meant-To has a comrade,
And his name is Didn't-Do;
Have you ever chanced to meet them?
Did they ever call on you?
These two fellows live together
In the house of Never-Win,
And I'm told that it is haunted
By the ghost of Might-Have-Been

That last line always saddens me, because I know for myself and many Arsenal fans, this is how we will remember Andrey --Andrei? Andre? Shava!-Arshavin. The eternal promise; a genius who inexplicably couldn't be bothered to be one, as if the ability to conjure a goal-scoring chance out of nothing was something he'd rather not deal with. Amazing, frustrating and ungrateful: because he's going to break my heart when he leaves.

Oh Sweet Prince, "You have walked among us a spirit and your shadow has been a light upon our faces." In January 2009, when Kolo Toure decided to reenact Shakespeare's "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar" and cast himself as Brutus, stabbing the hearts of the fans with the sharpest dagger in football, the transfer request, we fans were despaired and dejected, broken and broken-hearted, sad and sorrowful.

But, as we have always known or some of us have been told growing up, Arsene knows. What he knows exactly is sometimes debatable, but in this case, he looked out on the sea of glum, gloomy gooners and gave us joy in the form of a 5'8" Russian magician. The Cazorla before Cazorla, wasted on the left wing but always smiling, aloof to a point of--the detractors will say--mockery. Sure, a competent defender would have been nice, but this is not the time to get into details.

The truth must be said though, that Arshavin was lazy on the pitch. Off the pitch, I cannot say, as I'm not the manager and I do not watch him train every day. On it though, you can clearly see him leaving the defensive work for the less talented, as most playmakers of his kind do. This I believe has always been the biggest issue with him (Or that fans had with him). There is no treasure without toil, and Shava didn't fancy getting his hands dirty.

But the complaints about him didn't stem from an illogical disdain for his person or even an annoyance that a bad player was being given minutes on the team, but because we've witnessed magic before, and we desperately wanted it again. I'm speaking, of course, of his mind-blowing performance against Liverpool.

Those four goals that showcased every aspect of his game: a first touch striker's goal for the first, which he shushed the Liverpool fans after, like a performer shushing the audience before starting the show.

The second, relieving Arbeloa of the burden of the game ball, taking a few strides (mini strides?) forward and blasting a swerving shot past the mystified Pepe Reina. He then shushed the crowd again, those fans; the real show was still to come.

The third one was exceptional positioning and a bit of luck. After giving the ball to Nasri on the left wing, Arshavin made his run into the center of the box and waited, bided his time till the eventual cross was laid on a platter for him by the missed clearance of a Liverpool defender. Then in two touches--one to control, then the goal--he completed his hattrick. The crowd was in disbelief, the manager was stunned, and the player himself was as astonished as both.

But the fourth goal, oh the fourth goal is what furnished the floors, painted the walls and opened the windows of my soul to the little man in yellow. After a failed Liverpool corner, a counter-attack broke out, Theo Walcott, the speedster, sprinted down the right side on his own against two Liverpool defenders which one can be allowed to believe, were bent on causing him much harm.

And it once again looked like a dead end for the young quicksilver, until like a lightning bolt, Arshavin came sprinting from the left.

His little feet beating faster than the beating of our hearts during the 90th minute, he had already scored three, surely his genius had dried up. Surely, he could not, he cannot! The diminutive dynamite did. He received the pass from Walcott mid-stride, allowing him to be one-on-one with the unlucky Reina, and to show his superiority, to finish the show, he shifted it to his left foot and cannoned the shot past the goalkeeper. There no longer was a keeper there, just another spectator.

Twelve goals in 39 games, 10 goals in 52 the next year with 17 assists, then...nothing. He went through a period of playing at center forward due to the manager's own lack of foresight, then with the emergence of more hardworking players and his apparent lack of fitness, Arshavin was gone. I mean, he was still on the team, but apart from his tear-wrenching goal against Barcelona, he slowly became a myth more than a contributor.

Then, he became a joke, because what we do not understand, we either fear or we laugh at it. The things that used to be cute and adorable about the man, now were used as sticks to beat a dead horse. His infectious smile no longer meant that he's naturally happy, now it meant that he doesn't take anything serious.

His snazzy suit at the Charity Ball was the joke of the town, "look at how unaware and stupid he is" they said, heartless creatures. They even started vicious rumors that he was retiring.

"And ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation." Well the hour has come, the church bell is ringing and the contract has run out. This was inevitable; Shava no longer has a role on the team or even the bench. The fans barely even know he exists anymore, if not for the odd appearance at dinner parties or rare interview.

I don't know about your individual emotions about the man but I will miss him: the dribbles and feints that create chances from dead-ends, the crazy interviews (women shouldn't drive?), the goofy smile, his heartwarming big-small relationship with Per Mertersacker.

I will miss him dearly: everything he was, all that he could have been and the sense of fun that he brought to an overly serious game. The brightest stars burn out the quickest, but while many may cry and whine about his waste of potential, I will just be glad to witness his brilliance.

"If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song."

*Quotes from "The Prophet" by Khalil Gibran