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Andrey Arshavin on Arsenal, jokers and winning the UEFA Cup with Zenit

"Very smart, very lazy at the same time," says the ex-Zenit and Arsenal star as he describes his unique style.

#UEL Q&A with Andrei Arshavin
#UEL Q&A with Andrei Arshavin

Impish and mercurial, Andrey Arshavin was a massive star for Russia and his hometown club Zenit, winning the UEFA Cup with the St Petersburg club in 2008, before becoming a cult hero at Arsenal under Arsène Wenger.

Speaking as ambassador for the UEFA Europa League Trophy Tour, Driven by Kia, the 39-year-old looked back on his playing career and cast an eye over his favourite players in the modern game. He also brought a pair of his own football boots to the interview, his own personal contribution to the collection Kia is donating to the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, in partnership with the UEFA Foundation for Children, for the third consecutive year.

On his stars of the UEFA Europa League this season

I had the chance to play against [Heung-min] Son when he played for Bayer Leverkusen, and I think his style is similar to me in position on the pitch. He was a left winger, he went in the middle, he could go through by dribbling or shooting. [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang: he’s just a typical striker who has many skills and normally scores a lot, which I like.

EURO 2020 ambassador: Andrei Arshavin
EURO 2020 ambassador: Andrei Arshavin

[Outside of the UEFA Europa League], I like [Lionel] Messi. I think he is the best player, maybe, even in the whole history of football. As a boy, I never had an idol. I just had times where I liked one player, but normally they were always from Barcelona. First of all, it was Romário, then it was Ronaldo. Then it was Ronaldinho. No10s from Barça!

On Arsenal under Mikel Arteta

Comparing with their performance in the English league, of course, it’s completely different in the Europa League. Arsenal were so strong [in the group stage]. We went through the group stage very easily, but now, of course, we’re expecting much stronger opposing teams.

I like some young players like [Bukayo] Saka, but you know, always, if you want to win, you have to talk about the team performance. It's more important. One player can of course decide one game, maybe two games, but to go all the way through, you must be strong as a team. This is a point for Mikel Arteta: to get everyone together.

2008 final highlights: Zenit overcome Rangers
2008 final highlights: Zenit overcome Rangers

On his best performances

How would I describe my playing style? Very smart, very lazy at the same time, but with good dribbling and good vision. My three best games? One: [the 3-1 win] against the Netherlands at EURO 2008; the [October 2007] qualifying game against England at home, when we beat them 2-1; and also the final of the [2008] UEFA Cup against Rangers, when we won [2-0 in 2008 in Manchester].

It was difficult to realise what we'd done for Russian football, for my hometown. Thirteen years have passed, but still, everyone remembers and reminds me what we did and what it was like. It was a big event for everyone in Russia and St Petersburg. I understood that it would maybe never happen. Even before the final, we were talking between players, and said: "Hey guys, we have to win now, otherwise there maybe won't be any other opportunities." And we did it.

Arshavin and Gunners joker Emmanuel Eboué
Arshavin and Gunners joker Emmanuel EbouéArsenal FC via Getty Images

On his best team-mates and most-feared opponents

Best team-mate? Let's say [Cesc] Fàbregas: he can deliver the ball from any point to another in the right moment and with the right timing. Most feared defenders? I didn't really have that type of defender but it was still really difficult to play against [Branislav] Ivanović and John Terry, if we're talking about England. If we're talking about the Russian league, [Jerry] Tchuisse [from Spartak Moskva].

Which captain gave the best team talks? Me! Even when I wasn't wearing the captain's armband, for me, it wasn't so important because I was a leader in the team and the dressing room anyway. Maybe I'm not the best, but in my opinion, I was the best and I am the best. At Arsenal, I would say the [biggest joker was] Emmanuel Eboué. He was very funny, and I think I liked his humour; it was Rossisski [Russian]. At Zenit, I don't know. At Zenit, I was the best at everything.

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