No, it is not all going swimmingly at the moment at the Emirates. We are fifth and out of the Carling Cup, trailing the Scum by 10 points and four points off fourth. We lost Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas this summer. Jack Wilshere, Bakari Sagna, Andre Santos, Abou Diaby, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson have all been long term absentees. In the shorter term, Francis Coquelin, Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta have all been injured while Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh have left for the Africa Cup of Nations.
An unfortunate set of circumstances. They have led to us having to play Johan Djourou out of position at right back and seventh choice left back (behind Gibbs, Santos, Vermaelen, Coquelin and Sagna and Jenkinson - who can fill in there and are preferred as natural full backs), who is actually a centre back with next to no top flight experience, Ignasi Miquel.
At Swansea on Sunday, we were, as all the ‘papers have been saying, ‘out-Arsenal-ed’. They passed the ball better than us, they exploited our lack of natural full backs with their excellent wingers. They are a good team who played very well and exploited our mistakes. Where we would have been one point off fourth before, we are now four. A crisis of epic proportions.
But as a patron of the Twitter, a read down my timeline would suggest Arsenal have relegation and administration looming. It is not that bad. Vermaelen and Arteta will be back for the Manchester United game on Sunday. Not everything is terrible. We are still very close to the Champions League places.
Oh yeah, there is the Champions League - that competition that we are still firmly in. And the FA Cup - our best chance of a trophy this year - we are still in that. It is January and we are five points off the top four, not May. We have one of the best managers in the business and a squad which is definitely strong enough (when there are not a ridiculous number of injuries).
Darlington stand on the verge of going out of business. There has been shocking mismanagement afoot at the club for several years. Yet on Twitter people are moaning about the running of our club. Pathetic. We are fine on that one. Twitter petitions - ‘Twititions’ - calling for the removal of Peter Hill-Wood. While I think he is stuck in the past somewhat that is no way to treat someone whose family have been patrons of the club for so many years. I feel change is necessary but a ‘Twition’? Really?
It will all be fine. (And don’t worry about Spurs, we will be celebrating St. Totteringham’s Day this year). It is January; there is a lot of season left, as well as Champions League and FA Cup runs which could get going. We are not in crisis. We are fifth. In Arsene We Trust.
We all knew it would eventually happen. It was always only a matter of time until Cesc Fàbregas re-signed for Barcelona, but we, as Arsenal fans, cannot begrudge his move and our memories of him should not be clouded by his departure.
For the record, I believe he has made a huge mistake in returning now. He’s always going to be second in line to Xavi Hernandez and Andrès Iniesta (despite being better than the former), while the new contract awarded to Thiago Alacantra will go its way to securing him extra playing time; possibly leading to him being played ahead of Fàbregas.
But he has not betrayed Arsenal in any way, nor has he acted inappropriately. When compared to Liverpool’s ‘Captain Marvel’, ‘Leader’ and ‘Inspirational Figure’ Steven Gerrard, who has submitted numerous transfer requests and made so many threats to leave that I’ve lost count, and yet is still adored by the Anfield faithful, you cannot fault Fàbregas at all.
It’s worth noting that Fàbregas is from Barcelona, supported them growing up and played in their academy in his youth. By the sounds of it, he really just wants to go home. He began his trade at La Masia with the likes of Gerard Piqué and Lionel Messi, while he retains friendships with Xavi, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets, to name but three. His family dwell in Barcelona and it’s his home. Any Arsenal fan thinking of criticising him should put themselves in his position - how many of them would turn down moves to Arsenal?
Rather than denigrate Fàbregas, we should remember the good times; the talent he displayed and the joy he provided. His arrival came in 2003/04, when he became Arsenal’s youngest ever appearance maker and goalscorer. In 2004/05, when he burst onto the scene and became the club’s youngest ever League and Champions League goalscorer, going on to win the FA Cup - the only trophy in his time in North London. In 2005/06, Patrick Vieira was sold to make way for the then 18 year old. He was instrumental in the Champions League campaign that took Arsenal all the way to the final. All the while he was growing into a World class player. 2006/07 was a more quiet season for the club and Fàbregas, but he started every league game and made 16 assists. His stock was growing across Europe as Arsenal and he resisted overtures from the likes of Real Madrid, Milan and Barcelona.
2007/08 was the mark of a break even further forward for the Spaniard. As Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg left, Fàbregas became the key creative influence in the side and he did not disappoint. Arsenal were the surprise packages of the season, taking the league by storm. They played a fantastic brand of free-flowing, attacking football and the 20 year old Cesc Fàbregas was the fulcrum of the side. They were looking sure favourites to win the league until Eduardo’s horrific injury at St. Andrew’s where, as we can all remember, it completely fell apart. Fàbregas made 22 assists and grew as a goalscorer, too, scoring 13 - a record for him in a season. He was crowned PFA Young Player of the Year. Over the summer, he won the European Championships with Spain, having a pivotal role as an impact sub. 2008/09 was his first season as ‘El Capitan’, after William Gallas was stripped of the role. However, he was ruled out for four months with knee ligament damage and would not return to action until March. His presence was sorely missed, and Arsenal had another trophyless season.
If ever conformation of Fàbregas’s brilliance was needed, the 2009/10 season provided it in spades. In the first game alone, he racked up two goals and two assists, as Arsenal demolished Everton 6-1. He continued to score goals and provide assists - with a joint total of 38 (19 each, respectively), growing as a leader and an on-field presence. He was the subject of intense transfer speculation and the rumours of his departure were stronger than ever, and he certainly didn’t go out of his way to deny it, as he had in previous seasons. Meanwhile, he was crowned a World Cup winner, setting up the goal in the final. Arsenal held out and he remained with them for another season. At the start of his final season, his commitment could certainly not be doubted, but as injury set in and he was constantly rushed back too quickly, did was not the Cesc Fàbregas we had seen in years past. I attribute the injury he picked up against Stoke on February 23rd as the key reason Arsenal fell to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final. After that, we never really saw a fully fit Fàbregas again. His time at Arsenal ended with a whimper, rather than the roar it deserved, his final game being the 2-1 defeat to Bolton.
His talent is undeniable. His professionalism is, too. He’s shown a love, respect and affection for Arsenal, only topped by his adoration of Barcelona. The pleasant times El Capitan gave us must be remembered above all else. His first goal, making him the club’s youngest ever scorer. His announcing of himself onto the English football scene with his domineering show against Manchester United in the 2004 Community Shield. His defiance of his youth throughout his time, playing like someone with so many more years of experience behind him.
A personal favourite memory of Fàbregas is his stunning show against Juventus in the 2005/06 Champions League quarter final. He ran the rule over Patrick Vieira, the man who he had just replaced, and topped his performance with a goal. His 25 yard stunner against Tottenham and the 35 yard winner at the San Siro in 2007/08 are both well worth remembering. Though my standout memories of Fàbregas will be the goals against Spurs, Aston Villa, and Barcelona, respectively, in the 2009/10 season. I always enjoy a victory against Spurs, but the two goals in eleven seconds was a wonderful memory. As I was still celebrating Robin van Persie’s goal, I turn around and see the ball trailing into the net and Fàbregas wheeling away in delight. He’d managed to humiliate Spurs in less than five touches. The Villa goal was an example of a Captain doing his job. Arsenal were struggling for a goal and he produces a moment of magic. Simple.
The Barcelona goal was another special moment. Against his hometown club, with the pressure of millions watching and a broken bone in his leg, he smashed home his penalty. Fantastic show of grit, determination and passion, all of which Fàbregas embodies, along with style and magnificent technique and vision.
He is leaving the club at 24, with just one FA Cup to his name - much like a certain Liam Brady, who is undoubtedly one of the club’s legends, and to suggest otherwise is near-blasphemy (and rightly so). Although it is probable that the manner of Fàbregas’s departure will mean that he is not recognised as a legend - not straight away, at least.
Some may wish him ill in the future. They shouldn’t, he’s been a great player for us, and one who has fitted with the class on which Arsenal Football Club has always prided itself. (And even if you dislike him, remember - if he does well, Barcelona will have to pay up more!). No one can begrudge his desire to go home, all we can do is wish him the best of luck and thank him for the service he has done for us.
Upon the 2010/2011 season’s end I wrote this article on the potential change at Arsenal. I stated, in the main, that it was far more a case of minor tweaks rather than mass overhauls, but the transfer window does not appear to have progressed along the lines Arsenal and Arsène Wenger had wished.
Goalkeepers: What I suggested: Wojciech Szczesny to be handed the number one role, with Lukasz Fabianski to battle with him for it. Vito Mannone as third choice and Manuel Almunia to be sold (or shot out of a canon). What has happened: they have tried, so far, in vain to rid themselves of Almunia. Pre-season matches and advertisements (he has not even been pictured in the new kit) suggest he will play no part in proceedings. Potential changes: there was word that Wenger was interested in Craig Gordon, as a challenger for the two Poles, but realistically I don’t see it happening. The only thing that may happen is the departure of Almunia. No other change is needed.
Right Backs: What I suggested: Emmanuel Eboué to be sold, Davide Santon to be brought in. Bacary Sagna to remain as first choice. What has happened: Eboué looks like being sold to Galatasary very soon, while Carl Jenkinson has been brought in. Young and raw, but impressive at times in pre-season. Barring an injury to Sagna, he will get occasional games in the league and play in the cups. Good chances for him to gain experience. Promising prospect. Potential changes: Eboué to be sold, nothing else.
Left Backs: What I suggested: no changes. What has happened: Gaël Clichy has been sold to Manchester City. I think he’s a decent left back but a defensive liability. There are definitely better out there, but it wasn’t a particularly problem-area. The lack of movement on that front suggests Wenger believes Kieran Gibbs can fill the void. The talent is there, but is the fitness? He has a very poor injury record and Armand Traoré didn’t exactly impress in his previous stint in the side. Potential changes: for peace of mind as much as anything, I think Wenger should invest in a proven left back but that doesn’t seem likely. Realistically, I doubt anything will happen.
Centre Backs: What I suggested: Laurent Koscielny-Thomas Vermaelen as first choice pairing and another brought in as a challenger (Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Christopher Samba, Jan Vertongen, Phil Jones or Mamadou Sakho). Johan Djourou as third or fourth choice and Sébastien Squillaci to be shipped off. What has happened: very little, in reality. Phil Jones, Lancashire born and bred, elected to stay in his home area, despite Arsenal’s meeting Blackburn’s £16,000,000 price tag. A bid has been turned down for Phil Jagielka, but little else has come to the fore. Potential changes: Wenger has promised investment in the defence. With a large windfall expected to come in soon, a signing cannot be far away. Scott Dann has been mentioned, but if he is to sign I doubt he’ll be the only one. It will make for interesting viewing.
Central Midfielders: What I suggested: Denilson sold and a new backup defensive midfielder in. Do all possible to keep Cesc Fàbregas and make sure no others leave. What has happened: Denilson has gone back to Sao Paulo on loan, but it looks as though the task of acting as backup defensive midfielders will fall to Emmanuel Frimpong and Henri Lansbury. And it looks as though Fàbregas is on his way (I was convinced Barcelona would not pay up). It is not finalised yet so he has not been replaced. No others look likely to leave. Potential changes: a replacement must be brought in for Fàbregas. Juan Mata is a good option, but no signing will happen until the Fàbregas departure is complete. I don’t believe a defensive midfield signing will be made. Two players may be needed to bare the brunt of Fàbregas’s absence, or one superstar, like Wesley Sneijder (to take but one example).
Wingers: What I suggested: bring in Eden Hazard or another out-and-out winger and keep the rest. Stop using Nicklas Bendtner as a winger. What has happened: Bendtner is on the verge of leaving. Gervinho has been signed - similar to Hazard, but older and perhaps more ready for the Premier League. He also has a better goal and assist record than his former team mate. I did not forsee Samir Nasri expressing a desire to leave, though. A replacement must be signed for him. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has signed too, but is perhaps one for the future. Ryo Miyachi’s obtaining of a work permit is a huge boost - an out-and-out winger with blistering pace. Potential changes: Bendtner and Nasri are certain to leave. Gervinho has replaced the Dane, but the money generated by Nasri’s sale must go towards a replacement for him. Mata seems ideal, but if he is signed, a number 10 OR an out an out winger must be signed too, with Fàbregas on the way out.
Strikers: What I suggested: unless a switch to 4-4-2 was on the cards, no changes were needed, though this was before Bendtner expressed his desire to leave. What has happened: there was certainly interest in Karim Benzema that was swiftly quashed by José Mourinho. Since then, nothing, really. Gervinho is well capable of filling in up front and is more comfortable there than Bendtner was on the wing. Robin van Persie is the ideal first choice, while Marouane Chamakh is a capable second fiddle. Potential changes: another central striker is a possibility, but an unlikely one. Not a necessity at this point in time.
No one gave us a chance. Following on from last year’s thrashing at Barcelona’s hand, everyone assumed this was just another chapter of the same story and that a weaker Arsenal would get a more brutal beating from a stronger Barcelona.
Only this year there was a little more nouse about Arsenal, and far fewer injuries. Last year, there was no Robin van Persie, an injured William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin needing replacement before half time, an idiot between the posts, Cesc Fàbregas needing to be rushed back from injury, Alex Song at centre half, Denilson playing - in short, that team was in no fit state to tackle the strongest team around. This year, the only injury was to Thomas Vermaelen. Wojciech Szczesny would start in goal and they were not going to suffer from their own naïvety as their counterparts of the previous year had. The only real change to Barcelona was the switch of David Villa for Zlatan Ibrahimovic - a definite improvement.
Many of Barcelona’s games seem to follow a pattern - the opposition decide they’re going to ‘get in their faces’ and not be ‘pushed around’. This idea seems as though it is paying dividends until the clock reaches the tenth minute, at which point Barcelona become near-impossible to dispossess. From there it’s a slow, painful and demoralising death for the challengers, as the Catalans slowly drain them of their stamina, strength and in some cases, their collective will to live. Their ball retention is the best going, by far, but it was not a destruction à la their last Emirates Stadium encounter. Arsenal had a gameplan and it was working - push Barcelona up the pitch with the high line and aim to play on the counterattack. In rewatching the game, it was plain to see that the back four waited for Barcelona to get past Song and Jack Wilshere and then charged them down. This worked in places, but a high line is always a risk, especially against the forward line of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez.
The Catalans broke past the line of defence three times in the first half. Once it was a sloppy pass by Song that meant, five touches later, Messi was bearing down menacingly on the goal. It was a narrow escape as the little Argentine fired wide. Uncharacteristic, but credit must go to Szczesny, who held his ground and stayed on his feet until just before Messi opened fire. The second time led to a goal. Gaël Clichy was caught behind the line and Villa needed no second chance to exploit the yard of space his poor positioning provided. Villa rarely misses and Szczesny had no chance. Barcelona were now a goal up. It would then have been easy to let them run riot, but it did not shift Arsenal’s game plan. They were broken through a third time but Pedro’s eventual goal was (somewhat luckily) ruled out for offside.
Though this is not to say that Arsenal had no opportunities through the first half. They came closest on a counterattcking move, involving van Persie, Fàbregas and Theo Walcott, with the latter two in something of a role reversal, as Walcott supplied the through ball from the centre circle and Arsenal’s captain sprinting onto it down the right hand side. The pass was slightly overhit, but Fàbregas made it onto the end of it in time to send a cross towards van Persie, which was just headed away by Abidal. Walcott came close in the early stages, while van Persie was unlucky with one effort and foolish with another, taking too much time before shooting and allowing Gerard Piqué to recover and force his shot wide.
By the half it was 1-0 to the Catalans, but it was not all doom and gloom on the terraces. There was a cautious optimism amongst the Arsenal faithful. They were only a goal away and we were posing an attacking threat. All was most certainly not lost. Indeed, as the second half began, the home crowd were in full voice, as they had been through the first half, and would continue to be through the second. In its short life, the Emirates Stadium had never experienced such a raucous atmosphere, or anything approaching it. It was a relief, in some ways - if the rest of the crowd would not sing and shout on this, of all occasions, then they would never do so. The second 45 were slightly more open than the first had been, with there being a more potent flow to the games of both sides. All the while the Londoners were looking more and more likely to get a goal, but the threat of Barcelona was always a looming shadow, lurking in the background after every missed attempt on goal.
Credit here must go to Laurent Koscielny. He almost marked Messi out of the game and on one particular Barcelona attack, Pedro was clean through behind the line of defence until Koscielny miraculously managed to disposes him without bringing him down. It was a game that showed all his good qualities as a defender, and though he was liable at the Carling Cup final just two weeks on, it left me completely convinced of his abilities. As the game went back on forth, it was plain to see that it would not end 1-0 to Barcelona, but it could so easily have gone either way. On 78 minutes, Clichy produced a nice bit of improvisation, chipping the ball to the waiting van Persie in the area; what followed was spectacular. With Nicklas Bendtner arriving in the area, everyone assumed that the Dutchman’s next move would be to play to ball towards the big Dane, even Victor Valdes. Spying a football-sized gap between ‘keeper and post, van Persie opened fire. From the other end of the ground, where I was sat, we saw the ball disappear behind the figure of Valdes, then re-appear in the now rustling net.
The best thing about watching and rewatching clips of the goal is that as the television coverage shows the replays, the crowd are seeing them at the same time, and as the ball sneaks through that minute gap between Valdes and the upright, there is a clearly audible collective intake of breath. Many, myself included, initially thought there may have been an element of luck about the goal, but it’s clear to see van Persie knew exactly what he was doing. Now there was the belief that we could actually win this. We didn’t have long to wait for the second.
It was another example of the end-to-end nature of the match. Barcelona were on the attack, then Koscielny made the tackle, Bendtner played it short to Jack Wilshere - another who played fantastically - who played it short to Fàbregas, then two touches later, Samir Nasri was flying down the right hand side. As he slowed up, it looked as though the chance my have alluded him. The ball in looked misplaced, as it was behind the onrushing van Persie, but Nasri clearly saw more than we did. The ball fell to Arshavin and within a second the ball was again in the back of Valdes’s net. Delight. The Emirates had never felt that level of jubilation - truly that stadium’s finest hour (so far).
Barça would continue to attack and despite the natural tendency, as Arsenal fans, to panic, there was a feeling that we knew we had won, and even as they spent the last 5 minutes camped in the penalty area, we knew the victory was ours. Wilshere and Koscielny were the outstanding performers on a night no one in the ground will soon forget. I still have the flags that were given to us on display in my room; despite the injustice that was the second leg (Bussacca, you cheating swine*), you can’t ever take away from the joy, jubilation and sense of triumph that came with reigning victorious over this Barcelona. I returned from the game hoarse and emotionally and physically drained and with a sixth form interview the following day, but that did not stop me from rewatching and reliving the last 90 minutes again. Unforgettable evening.
In almost 10 years of going to matches, I’ve seen the Arsenal lose and draw a number of times, but I’ve never seen them so thoroughly outplayed and destroyed as when they met Barcelona in March 2010; and yet they still came away from the game with a draw.
It was the two teams’ first meeting since the 2006 Champions League Final and the game marked the first reunion of Thierry Henry with his former club. There was much hype surrounding the game, as the two teams involved are generally considered to play the two most aesthetically pleasing styles of game in Europe, and that any watcher was to witness a spectacle of how football is played.
Those in search of majestic football were not to be disappointed, but (for the first half hour at least) those in search of a level contest would be. Barcelona ripped shreds from Arsenal and from a fan’s perspective, I’ve rarely seen football that good since Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of the 2003/2004 campaign - but more on them later. Barcelona began the onslaught as early as a minute in, when they earned a corner, the result of which was Sergio Busquets slamming an effort against the post. I was placed behind Victor Valdes’s first half goal, and I would not see the ball anywhere close to me for half an hour. Only the performance of a lifetime from Manuel Almunia had kept Arsenal from being annihilated.
Eventually, Arsenal strode forward, and came close themselves with a Samir Nasri effort drifting past Valdes’s left-hand post. Half time came as welcome relief, but Arsène Wenger’s gambles to rush William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin back from injury had backfired, as both were taken off before the half’s end. The teams re-entered for Act II and the Catalans continued their first half rampage. Gerard Pique, in possession on the half-way line, spotted that Thomas Vermaelen had been drawn forward by the ever-present threat of Lionel Messi, and as makeshift centre-half Alex Song had left Zlatan Ibrahimovic open, the Spanish defender sent the ball over to the free Swede, who took full advantage of Almunia’s indecision as to whether to commit to the loose ball by lobbing it over the dithering Spaniard’s head.
Barcelona’s second came in very similar fashion. Vermaelen caught away from the defensive line and Song did not get tight to Ibrahimovic, but this time, Ibrahimovic exploited an opening at Manuel Almunia’s near post. Arsenal looked finished. There looked to be no hope for them, and many thoughts were directed to how many more were to be conceded. With things the way they were, Barça looked unplayable.
6 minutes after Barcelona’s second, Theo Walcott was introduced to proceedings. Then Arsenal began to attack, and he had got the better of Maxwell twice already, and Arsenal suddenly began to look dangerous. Nasri knocked a pass to Bendtner, who held up the ball for a few seconds before sliding the ball through to Walcott. It was a golden opportunity for Arsenal, and if there was any hope of a comeback, it would have to be taken. Walcott’s effort was poor, but it escaped under the body of Valdes and into the net. There was a renewed belief about the Arsenal players, but even moreso amongst the fans. The atmosphere had started as electric, but as the goals went in, the crowd became more deflated, but when Walcott’s effort hit the net, the Arsenal faithful regained a hope that was all but lost after they fell two goals behind.
Away from the actual play, the moment for which so many of the Arsenal fans had been waiting arrived 77 minutes in. Thierry Henry replaced Ibrahimovic and was awarded a rapturous reception. For 8 incredible years, Henry lit up the red half of North London; he was voted Arsenal’s Greatest Ever by a poll on the club website; he holds Arsenal’s all-time goalscoring record; he was at the forefront of their 2002 double-winning team and the aforementioned ‘Invincibles’ - quite simply, the Frenchman is an Adonis to the Arsenal and for a moment, the intensity of the game simmered as we in the crowd welcomed home a hero of years gone by.
Back to the play, Arsenal looked as though they could achieve what at the hour mark seemed impossible and draw level. At 85 minutes, Eboué played the ball to Walcott down the right-hand side. He delivered a low cross, but it was deflected off Carles Puyol and looped into the air. It arrived on the head of Nicklas Bendtner and his positioning meant that he was unable to make an attempt at goal, but he did incredibly to nod to ball towards Cesc Fàbregas. The former La Masia man arched himself for the shot, but was caught by Puyol. The latter was red-carded and Arsenal had a penalty.
The Arsenal Captain stood against his compatriot Valdes. He was a Barcelona fan growing up, he played for their youth academy with Pique and Messi, amongst others, and now he had the chance to level the scoring for the side who gave him the opportunity to reach his potential as one of the World’s finest creative players. The entire stadium fell silent. Fàbregas stepped up and blasted the ball straight into the Barcelona net. The fans, as a collective, went insane with delight. Even fans on the Upper Tier were jumping and singing - a very rare occurrence.
At this point, everyone looked back to the pitch, and saw the goalscorer Fàbregas limping back to the centre circle. He had broken a bone in his leg in his challenge with Puyol and yet had still picked himself up to score from the spot. Any who questioned the Captain’s commitment to the club were silenced in dramatic fashion. He was to miss the rest of the season which, it can be argued, scuppered Arsenal’s then strong title challenge.
I have since re-watched the game and still found myself aghast at the sight of such an incredible footballing spectacle. The football played early on by Barcelona was extraordinary, but even moreso was the spirit shown by Arsenal, after being pummelled for the majority by Barcelona, to come back and gain a draw; topped off by Thierry Henry’s return home, it really was a brilliant night of football.
This is, of course, working on Fàbregas’s own words that he would only leave North London to return to Catalunya. For himself, above the wishes of his current employers and his possible future home, staying where he is now is by far the best possible course of action.
The Arsenal Captain has only just turned 24. Already a magnificent playmaker, he still has room for improvement. In terms of his abilities in his role on the pitch, there are only two players who are better than he in world football - they come in the forms of Xavi Hernàndez and Andrès Iniesta, the men who make Barcelona as great as they are. They played 100 games between them last season (50 each). Fàbregas, being at the level at which he is currently, would never be able to force either player to be dropped. This would leave him on the bench, stagnating, his remarkable talent almost going to waste. With improvement still on the agenda, why would he possibly want to halt his development, especially now, while he is on the cusp of becoming one of the best midfielders of this generation? The way he plays, he could keep going until he is 35. With so much time and being as good as he is, he should be the hub of Arsenal’s team, starting every game he can, not a bit-part player for a team that don’t need him.
Arsenal are demanding £50,000,000, and rightly so - he’s worth every penny. The fact is, though, that he is not an imperative signing for Barcelona. This would make him a Fernando Torres at Chelsea-esque vanity buy, and despite Roman Abramovic’s belief, no vanity signing is worth £50,000,000. Reports suggest that Barcelona will not pay the full sum Arsenal are demanding but will offer a sum of money and a player. The players suggested so far are the likes of Bojan Krkic and Thiago Alacantra - unestablished players and no replacement for Arsenal’s best player. Despite Barcelona’s influx of money this year after their Champions League triumph and new sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation, it does not seem as though they are willing to meet Arsenal’s valuation. And why should they? As I say, he’s not an essential purchase.
Which all goes to show that Barcelona are more looking to sign him to prove they can than to help themselves or Fàbregas himself in any way. It is slightly worrying that Fàbregas doesn’t see that himself, but it is more alarming that he seems to think that the move is a good idea. He does not come ahead of Xavi and Iniesta in the national team, he cannot play Sergio Busquets’s role, his place would be on the bench. He is seen by many as the natural successor to Xavi but while he still reigns in the centre of Barcelona’s midfield, there is no place for Fàbregas. A wiser time for him to move would be when Xavi starts to fade. He is 31 now and I believe he has around 3 years left of being able to play every week. When he hits 34-35, he may take on a similar role to the one Paul Scholes had at Manchester United in his final years, not playing every week, but still with a role in the side.
This is all neglecting the importance of his role at Arsenal. They need him. He is their Captain, their star player and their creator. Their system is built to get the best from him and he is the lifeblood of the team. Losing him could have massive consequences on their position and future, hence their determination to keep him around. He did push for a move last summer, but when you compare his methods in bartering for a transfer to those of many other players in the same position, it did not seem as though it was what he desired above all else. It came across more as a man who had been on a lengthy holiday saying “it’s been fun, but I think I’d like to go home now”, while at the same time not being too unhappy with remaining where he is. He did not submit a transfer request, he did not holler his wishes in the media and did not openly play as a man who no longer wanted to be at Arsenal.
It seems as though a move in two or three years may suit every party better - Fàbregas will get a starring role at his dream club, Arsenal will have a better prepared Aaron Ramsey to fill the void of his departure and Barcelona will have a replacement for Xavi, whose importance cannot be overstated. Fàbregas has always spoken of his love for Arsenal and for London - he may not be delighted with his situation but he does not seem unhappy or discontented at all. Showing the passion and commitment to Arsenal that he has shown in his seven years will only make Barcelona want him all the more when Xavi’s time begins drawing to a close. On all levels, it just makes more sense.
After Arsenal’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Everton, David Moyes chose to use his post-match press conference to slate Fàbregas for comments he is alleged to have made at half time to the referee. Moyes chose not to disclose what may or may not have been said, but this did not stop the majority of the British media digging into the Arsenal Captain for his “unprofessionalism,” whilst citing other incidents as a growing precedent of this.
It later transpired that Fàbregas implied that the referee had taken some form of bribe, which Moyes took as an insult to himself, his team and the integrity of both himself and the club. In fairness to Moyes, it was perhaps not the wisest thing for the Spaniard to have said, but Arsenal had seen a frankly ridiculous goal awarded against them, poor use of the advantage rule and two rather soft yellow cards. Being in the ground, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of the Emirates was fuming with Lee Mason and his officials, and what was said was in the heat of the moment. It is also worth noting that watching many other teams, especially Manchester United, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes (to name but two) and often seen telling referees to “fuck off” and the like, but the British media chooses not to outlaw the English players in the same fashion they have for the Spanish man.
Many newspapers elected to bring up the Brian Horton spitting controversy, in which Fàbregas was said to have spat at the Hull assistant manager and had the audacity to walk onto the pitch wearing clothes! He was cleared of the spitting charge and being Captain of the team who had just ground their way to a difficult victory and being out with a long-term knee injury, was he not well within his right to walk onto the pitch, wearing his own clothes, to congratulate his team mates?
Another was the incident after a dour 0-0 draw to Ewood Park with Blackburn, wherein he approached Mark Hughes and accosted him, asking if Hughes had played for Barcelona and then telling him “well that wasn’t Barcelona football.” That comment exudes immaturity, yes. Perhaps fair for a 19 year old? He later apologised for the comments, but that’s still no excuse. I mean, it’s not as if an English player would sleep with his friend’s ex-girlfriend, who was the mother of his friend’s child. Or even sleep with a prostitute while his wife was pregnant, then hold the club that had given him so much to ransom in order to earn a large increase on his pay cheque. Or indeed get arrested and found guilty of punching his girlfriend in the face.
Well it’s fair to say, Fàbregas’s being charged with spitting before an acquittal, making an immature comment at an opposing manager at 19 and using what was, in the scheme of things, quite a mild insult towards a referee definitely entitles him to a truckload of abuse from the English media - it’s scum like him that ruin the game for the Ryan Shawcross-es, the Martin Taylors and the Dan Smiths of this World.
The three aforementioned incidents involving English players above were of John Terry, Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll (in that order), and it’s certainly fair to say that all those incidents clearly showed people with little integrity, little professionalism and even little respect for women. Have any of the incidents involving Fàbregas come anywhere near this magnitude? No. Have those three players been reviled on the level that Fàbregas has? No.
In Arsenal’s previous two visits to St. Andrew’s, they have conceded late goals that, to varying degrees, have gone on to go their way to destabilising their title challenge. Going into the game, they were 5 points from the Premier League’s summit and after a disappointing midweek draw with Wigan, they were looking to clamber back towards top spot. Birmingham started the game in 19th place, but off the back of a late salvaged draw with Manchester United, but a draw would have led them to 15th and they had only lost one home game all season.
Arsenal, as ever, set off to attack and earned two free kicks around 25 yards and to the right of Ben Foster’s goal, both of which had been poorly struck by Robin van Persie, who was making only his third start of the season. Then, in an attempt top bring the ball forward from defence, Roger Johnson took a heavy touch and Cesc Fàbregas pounced on the loose ball, only to be on the receiving end of a very strong tackle, which left Arsenal’s Captain floored. Some were calling for a red card to be shown, and it could be argued that if the tackle had taken place later than 6 minutes in, he may have received his marching orders, but Johnson went into the book and play continued. In a similar position to the two earlier wasted free kicks by Arsenal, they were given another, but only due to a rather theatrical tumble by van Persie. The Dutchman stepped forward and took the free kick, but the ball was sent in the opposite direction to the one in which van Persie had sent it by the stomach of Lee Bowyer, and with the aid of the deflection, the ball rolled in for Arsenal’s first, and van Persie’s first League goal of the season.
Around 20 minutes on from Arsenal’s opener, Birmingham had a free kick, which was sent into the away side’s area. Johnson knocked the ball down and as van Persie stretched to meet it, the ball fell onto his arm. With his arms outstretched, it was a clear penalty, but Peter Walton chose not to award it. Just minutes later, Arsenal poured forward on the counter-attack. Nasri took the ball down the left side and as he drifted inside, he slid the ball through to the man who seemed to be at the centre of all the key events thus far, van Persie, but an uncharacteristically poor touch meant that Foster was able to pick up the ball from the floor. With Arsenal’s penchant for conceding late goals, that miss could have been one that Arsenal, by the games end, regretted not converting.
As the second half commenced, Lee Bowyer was seen by the television cameras - but not by Peter Walton - to stamp on Bacary Sagna in an off the ball incident. Although this was not spotted, the FA could pull Bowyer up on the challenge and give a retrospective punishment. Arsenal continued their wasteful streak in front of goal, undoing their own excellent build-up play; Jack Wilshere, on his 19th birthday, sent a good chance over the bar and Nasri had a close range effort well saved by Foster.
It was then perhaps fitting that Arsenal’s best player of 2010, Nasri, went on to make amends for his miss. After some fine interchange play with Arsenal’s other star of the year just past, Fàbregas, he sent a curled right-footed effort inside Birmingham’s near post to double Arsenal’s lead. Victory looked to be assured and the St. Andrew’s jinx seemed well on its way to being smashed.
But there was more to come from Arsenal and it was the combined work of Nasri and Fàbregas again that led to the goal. The Spaniard played the ball into the box, wherein Nasri collected it, and Fàbregas went on an overlapping run and upon receiving the Frenchman’s return ball, fired a shot at Foster. Foster parried the shot, but only as far as the leg of Scott Dann. From there, the ball bounced towards Johnson, and the contact it made with his leg and trailed into his own net. Now victory was assured.
There was not a lot more that took place in the match. Arsenal didn’t add to their lead and Birmingham did not reduce their deficit. There was not a lot from which Birmingham could take heart in the game, but for Arsenal, there was much about which they can be positive. With events past - the injury to Eduardo, Gallas’s on-field breakdown - this was never going to be an easy fixture for Wenger’s men, but they passed the test with flying colours, and went some way to dismissing the assumption that “they don’t like it up ‘em.”
His choice of line-up also raises questions about the future of Andrey Arshavin. He was also left out for Arsenal’s game against Chelsea and his positive statistics for the season so far seem to be hiding a truth. Theo Walcott’s season has been hampered by injury, but when he has played, he has looked eager and strong, and Samir Nasri has been magnificent. Arshavin is mainly stationed down the left channel with Nasri on the right, but when played on the left, Nasri has seemed to be even better than he has been on the right, and with a strong Walcott, there seems to be little room remaining for Arshavin. Wenger clearly values him as a player and would be reluctant to let him go, but if the two aforementioned wingers keep up their strong form, the diminutive Russian may be doomed to be a bit-part player. What is also important is the improvement in Gaël Clichy’s performances when not coupled with Arshavin down the left-hand side. Arshavin is by no means known for tracking back, and when Clichy is aided by having his winger help him on the defensive side, he has resembled the Clichy of years previous, before his rather lengthy spell of lacklustre forms.
It is a problem that Arsène Wenger won’t mind having. He has been used to having to operate by the bare bones of his squad in recent years, and now having the luxury of a choice amongst his better players will be a dilemma he’ll enjoy considerably more. As for the year ahead, Arsenal are marching on, and with Manchester City in the week, they’ll be hoping to carry forward some momentum. As for Birmingham, they will be hoping to recover quickly ahead of their clash with fellow relegation strugglers West Ham, and will be hoping to earn a win in the “basement six-pointer.”