Following last weekend’s poor display and defeat in Perm against Amkar, Zenit St. Petersburg are forced to bounce back with a victory Sunday if they want to keep the dream of becoming Russian champions once again alive.
As they face Arsenal Tula, who are currently sitting 15th in the league, they have the perfect opportunity to put both points and goals on the board. In September, they won 5-0 in Tula, and Arsenal is somewhat of a dream opponent for Zenit who have scored 12 goals in the last four meetings, of which three has been won.
Arsenal, who finished second after FC Orenburg in the FNL last season, work with one of the smallest budgets in the league and so it is no surprise that they are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the league.
Although they are less tactically naïve than when Dmitry Alenichev led them to the Russian Football Premier League back in 2014, they are still struggling to put points on the board. 19 games into the season, they have collected just 15 points and won only three games. Furthermore, the Red-Yellows have scored a meager eight goals, the lowest of any team in any of Europe’s best six leagues.
However, Arsenal shouldn’t be mistaken for a walk in the park. Following an embarrassing 3-0 defeat away to Orenburg in the spring premier, they redeemed themselves perfectly last weekend as they beat Ural Yekaterinburg 2-0 at home.
Ural, who started the spring off with beating Amkar, were dominated throughout most of the game, and the victory was well-deserved.
Both goals were scored by Argentinean target-man Federico Rasic, who recently joined the club from Gimnasia in his homeland. The two goals made the 194 cm tall striker Arsenal’s top scorer this season, and he’ll need to perform for Arsenal to get a result in St. Petersburg. The first of his goals were scored with a penalty, while the second was a nice header, proving his abilities in the air.
Considering Rasic turns 25 next week, it was about time that he began scoring. He is yet to burst into the big time and so far, he hasn’t scored more than a handful of goals throughout his career. In fact, he spent six months with Amkar back in the 2013/2014 season, without ever getting playing time in the first team. However, if he keeps performing as he did against Ural, things look good for both him and Arsenal.
Rasic wasn’t the only interesting foreign player to move to Tula this winter though. Arsenal also picked up midfielder Moussa Doumbia from FC Rostov and defender Stoppila Sunzu from Lille, both on loan this winter, while they also signed Ivan Ivanov from Panathinaikos, and Alexandru Bourceanu from Steaua Bucharest. With the exception of 22-year-old Doumbia, these are all experienced players, who have played at some of Europe’s biggest stadiums during their careers, which is exactly what Arsenal needs at this stage.
However, it’s not as if they completely forgot the Russians. The team already had a strong Russian core of players, and this winter they added Kirill Kombarov from Tom Tomsk and most importantly Vladimir Gabulov on a free transfer.
Although Gabulov hasn’t played since he left Dinamo Moscow last summer, the 33-year-old goalkeeper has already proven his worth for Arsenal, and the fact that a player with his merits lands in Tula is a small miracle. Between 2007 and 2013 he played 10 matches for the Russian national team, where he deputized Igor Akinfeev, and having played for clubs like Dinamo, CSKA Moscow and Anzhi Makhachkala, while they were on their top, he has experience from the highest level.
Further up the pitch, Arsenal have two players whom many Zenit fans will recognize – Oleg Vlasov and Ilya Maksimov. Both of these had their football education at Zenit, and in the early 00s they were both considered among the most promising Russian talents. Maksimov went to play 13 games for Zenit before eventually leaving the club permanently in 2010, while Vlasov was more successful and reached 51 games before leaving in 2008. Although neither reached the expected highs, both are technically gifted players, who can hurt even the best teams on their good days.
Maksimov, who received his debut on the national team last year, is currently out with a knee injury however, which of course hurts Arsenal’s already slim chances of getting even a draw at Petrovsky Stadium.