Can the Emirates Stadium side cope with the loss of their mercurial midfielder?
With Cesc Fabregas finally completing his move back to hometown club Barcelona, so ends one of football’s longest running transfer sagas. It was inevitable from the moment Barca declared that they wanted Fabregas back some 3 years ago, that he would one day return. That day has come and now the matter can finally be put to bed. What can’t be however, are the implications the sale will have on Arsenal’s future.
The contrasting emotions in North London and Catalonia were plain for all to see. While Fabregas was unveiled to the Barcelona fans and kissing the badge on his jersey, Arsene Wenger was preparing his team for tomorrow’s Champions League qualifier against Italian club Udinese. There is unbridled joy for Barca as they have finally got their man. Fabregas has finally got his dream move and their squad will now be even stronger than that which has been so dominant already. For Arsenal, there is uncertainty.
Udinese marks the first game since Fabregas has left, but however that match turns out, it is the long-term implications that will worry fans. Look at their opponents for example- Udinese have lost their 3 best players in Gokhan Inler, Cristian Zapata and Alexis Sanchez (also to Barcelona) and how do you think that they will fare this season without them? Will they once again qualify for the Champions League having not made any significant reinforcements? Doubtful. Of course Arsenal have a better squd than Udinese, but the concept is the same- if you lose your best players you replace them or face the consequences.
This brings up a question that all Arsenal fans must be wondering- why did the transfer go through so late and leave them with little time to find a replacement? Surely Wenger knew that he had a near impossible task of persuading Fabregas to stay again, and that it was almost nailed on that he would leave. Why so was the deal completed now, with the Premier League season already underway? Perhaps he is not going to go out and spend the money on a like-for-like replacement for Fabregas, after all, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey look like they could develop into top players too. Still with around £25m going straight into the bank and approximately another £10m to come later, there is plenty of money now to strengthen some of the areas that Arsenal are weak in. The topic of these positions and possible players they might need has been exhausted over the last few weeks- there is no need to go over it again.
When Liverpool sold Xabi Alonso, they lost the fulchrum of their team. Everything went through Alonso, and without him it was completely different. They no longer had a world-class midfielder who could dictate the tempo of a game and pull the strings. At Arsenal, all things went through Fabregas. It would be naive to think that Ramsey or Wilshere are ready to fill Fabregas’ boots. After all, he was the best midfielder in the league, he is a World Cup winner, and he has all the experience in the world at the very highest level. Fabregas was also a perfect example of a Wenger success story and a symbol for his ideology- a talented player who is developed into a world class player who plays the game the right way, e.g. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robin Van Persie etc. He was always a talent, and looked destined to be a great player, but under the Frenchman he became the complete midfielder. He added goals (and plenty of them) to the assists he would always provide. He was assured in his defensive duties as well as being a threat for opposition defences. Fabregas has been quick to acknowledge the role that Wenger played in his development, but that won’t matter a jot to Arsenal fans. All they want to know now is how the money will be used.
Arsenal’s next Premier League game is coincidentally against Liverpool next weekend. Liverpool have long been a rival of the Gunners, with both teams normally guaranteed Champions League football, but at this moment nothing can be taken for granted. Liverpool suffered from selling their best players and not replacing them (due to their previous owners), and the result was them slipping down the table and out of the top 4 places. This summer however, they have addressed the need for width with the signing of Stewart Downing, they have finally signed a dependable left-back in Jose Enrique, as well as making a number of other signings- they have identified where tehy were weak, and they have done something about it. With the exception of Gervinho, Arsenal haven’t made another signing who can go straight into the first team. Having lost Nicklas Bendtner and Gael Clichy already, and with Emmanuel Eboue all but gone, as well as question marks over the future of Samir Nasri, Arsenal could be without a number of first-team players come the end of the transfer window.
There was once a time when whatever Arsene Wenger said was gospel to the Arsenal fans. Nowadays, the grumbles are becoming a lot more audible. In fairness to Wenger, there have been times over the past few seasons when Arsenal looked capable of the league, only to fall off the rails. The problem is, he has appeared reluctant to spend on the problem positions, and as a result, as other teams get better, Arsenal are relying on their young talents making the step-up.
Should Nasri leave after Fabregas and should Arsenal fail to make the top 4 where would that leave them? The likes of Wilshere and Van Persie wouldn’t want to be playing in the Europa League. Would Wenger stay and try to rectify things? Or would he decide that his time at Arsenal was over? While they have always been able to attract top players, were they to fall out of the Champions League spots, they would become a far less attractive option to those players of the highest calibre, and a rebuilding job would be on the cards. Those days of going into each season looking at a title challenge would be gone.
Fabregas can’t be replaced. Not this season anyway. He is too good a player, and was too important to how Arsenal played as a team. They will be weaker without him, at a time when they can’t afford to be. Man United, Chelsea and Man City should all have a top 4 spot nailed on. That leaves only one more up for grabs, and should Arsenal fail to snatch it, the consequences could be devastating.