With so much talk about Cesc Fabregas returning to play his old club Arsenal for Chelsea this weekend, there have been inevitable questions again about Arsene Wenger’s decision not to re-sign the Spanish midfielder from Barcelona in the summer.
Funny, because playing alongside Fabregas all season long at Stamford Bridge has been a world class defensive midfielder far more in the mould that the Gunners have been lacking for a long time: Nemanja Matic.
Signed for a bargain £21m last January, Matic arrived from Benfica for a second spell with the Blues after being ditched by the club earlier in his career. Once again, Chelsea got away with murder in terms of allowing talented youngsters to leave the club withoout being given a proper opportunity (see also: Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku), but the real crime is that they were allowed to do this unchallenged.
Perhaps no one could have expected that the Serbian international would settle so perfectly in the Premier League, instantly looking like one of the best defensive midfielders in England after arriving from Portuguese football, but then that’s what scouts are for, and that’s another top talent Arsenal have somehow missed despite priding themselves on discovering hidden gems and giving chances to those who aren’t necessarily big names.
And yet here we are, nearly a whole ten years since Patrick Vieira left north London, and Wenger arguably still hasn’t replaced the legendary Frenchman. Of course, few can match the ability to dominate a midfield like Vieira at his peak, but Matic has done as good a job as anyone with his performances this season, combining defensive awareness with work-rate and sheer quality in the timing of his tackles, interceptions, as well as an eye for a pass to keep the ball moving forward – a player who would be perfect for Arsenal and a cut above the likes of Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere who were regulars for the Gunners in that position last season when Matic rejoined Chelsea.
Arsenal have been fortunate to discover a gem in Francis Coquelin this season, but even that was more by accident than design as an injury crisis forced Wenger to recall him from loan at Charlton Athletic, and perhaps we should give the young Frenchman more time before deciding he’s of the quality of someone like Matic in that role.
Of course, sometimes teams just miss out on good players, especially as Chelsea are more ready to pay the big money to bring in who they want, even if it is just £21m in the case of Matic. Still, with players like Mathieu Flamini, Alex Song, Wilshere, Arteta and others all failing to adequately replace Vieira, missing out on Matic looks like a real error in judgement from a manager who seems to refuse to pay up for one of the most important positions on the football pitch.