With Arsene Wenger calling on Arsenal fans to give Cesc Fabregas a good reception when he returns to the Emirates Stadium with Chelsea this weekend, here’s a look at why the Gunners boss is right to defend his old captain.
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The Spanish playmaker may only be 27 years old, but it looks increasingly like he actually gave his best years to Arsenal before leaving for Barcelona in 2011. Few could begrudge any player the chance to return to his boyhood club, especially when the Catalan giants were the best team in the world at the time, boasting stars like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta over messrs Emmanuel Eboue and Manuel Almunia in north London.
Quite simply, Fabregas became one of the best midfielders in the world when he was still a teenager, and could easily have left Arsenal earlier if he’d wanted to play in a team that matched his quality; Wenger was selling other star players right, left and centre as he failed to build a competitive side, and it was incredibly naive of him to then expect his captain and midfielder, who had been carrying the club almost single-handedly, to not think he too might be better off elsewhere.
Fabregas might not have had the best of times at Barcelona, but he won the trophies he wanted to and most of his poor form was not really his own doing due to being used out of position for the vast majority of his time at the Nou Camp; the fact that Barca did not truly recognise his talent as a deep-lying midfielder and sold him to Chelsea for what looks like a bargain is not his fault, and nor is the fact that Arsenal notably turned down the chance to re-sign him themselves.
Fans are right to hold a grudge if a player ends up moving to a rival, but this was not a direct move in the manner of Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri or Emmanuel Adebayor, and it was not one Wenger himself could not have prevented if he’d wanted to.
As is often the case, players get the flak for the decisions of their managers above them. Wenger made the decisions that led to Fabregas wanting to leave, Wenger allowed him to leave, and Wenger could’ve brought him back but allowed him to move to Chelsea instead.
A second FA Cup in consecutive seasons may be on the horizon for Arsenal, but four years after Fabregas’ exit, the Gunners are no closer to winning the league, and that is Wenger’s doing far more than any one player.