In 2014 Arsene Wenger got the call. Cesc Fabregas is leaving Barcelona. Do Arsenal want him?
When sold their captain back to his home town club in acrimonious circumstances back in 2011, the club had the foresight to insert a first option buy back clause in the deal, ensuring that if Fabregas ever left Barcelona, Arsenal would have an offer accepted on him.
Whilst at Barcelona, reports are that Arsene Wenger remained in fairly frequent contact with Fabregas. It was an estranged father / son relationship. The door clearly always open for the return of one of the best players Arsenal have had in the last 15 years. But when the time came for Fabregas to leave, Wenger’s phone stopped getting answered to the Fabregas camp. The door was shut. The deal not going to happen.
You could argue it is one of the biggest mistakes of recent years by Arsene Wenger, as Fabregas went to join Chelsea, and win 2 Premier League titles, acting as a driving force in both.
It is very easy now, in 2017, to point and laugh at the mistake. Football in hindsight is a wonderful thing. We see that on Match of the Day as pundits pick apart every tactical and positional position made by players and managers that result in a defeat. It is easy to pick holes in something 5 hours after the event. If these pundits were brilliant as they pretend to make out, they would be top level managers, not sitting on a sofa late on a Saturday night discussing what has happened in games. Hindsight.
So to be fair to everyone involved in the deal, we need to go back to the summer of 2014. David Cameron was Prime Minister, the UK was still in the EU, Jeremy Corbyn was a back bench MP, Ellie Goulding was at number one with Beating Heart and we were a week away from the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction. Spurs had not won a trophy for a long time, the league even longer. Arsenal had just won the FA Cup.
For me, the Cesc Fabregas deal did not die in the summer of 2014, but the previous summer. The summer of the £1 Luis Suarez bid.
In 2013, Arsenal needed a marquee signing, a superstar striker. They went for Luis Suarez, bid above his contracted minimum release clause, and the deal should have gone through. Liverpool held their ground, and basically said to Suarez “take us to court for breach of contract”. It would have been a long, drawn out process, a court case that would have taken years. Instead of taking Liverpool to court, Suarez signed a new, better paid deal, with the agreement that he could leave abroad the next season. Ironically he ended up at Barcelona in 2014, with the Catalonians having to sell Fabregas to finance the deal.
Had the Suarez deal have gone through, I am adamant that the next season, if Fabregas was available, he would have returned to Arsenal. Fabregas playing behind Suarez. It would have driven Arsenal to the Premier League title. But as soon as the Suarez deal died, Arsenal had to explore other options. With very few top quality strikers on the market, Arsenal made a last ditch move for Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil in a £42.5m deal. Arsenal had arguably secured the best number 10 in the world.
Roll on a year to 2014. The year Fabregas came available. Mesut Ozil had driving Arsenal to their first trophy in 9 years. A successful first season. Fabregas came on the market. He wanted Arsenal, but he found that Arsenal no longer had space for him. With Ozil in his position, there was simply not the space for Cesc Fabregas as a number 10.
Ozil was 18 months younger and clearly a superior player. There would be no way Arsenal would even look into offloading the German after a single season to replace with an older, more injury prone, Cesc Fabregas – who lets not forget basically went on strike to force a move away from Arsenal.
Instead of Fabregas, Arsene Wenger decided on another Barcelona outcast. Alexis Sanchez.
When the Suarez deal fell through, it was clear what Arsene Wenger wanted upfront. A battler. Someone with pace, but who would chase down lost causes, would battle for the team, would be the spearhead. Alexis Sanchez was the man. In came Sanchez, to partner Ozil, and Fabregas eventually went to Chelsea.
It is an interesting conundrum. With Suarez, Arsenal would not have signed Ozil, without Ozil, Arsenal would have signed Cesc Fabregas, without Suarez Arsenal signed Alexis Sanchez.
In his first season at Chelsea, Fabregas won the Premier League. In the 2nd season, he showed his petulant side, alongside Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, they basically stopped performing for Jose Mourinho. This season he has returned to his former brilliant best as Chelsea look to romp home with the title by double points more than their nearest rivals.
But has Fabregas actually performed that well this season?
When I have seen him, he has been excellent. But he has only started 11 league games this season.
He begun the season in a midfield two, where he was horribly exposed for his inability to get around the field. His legs had gone. Very good on the ball, but he had zero defensive awareness and was simply unable to cover as much ground as he used too when at Arsenal. Injuries had taken their toll.
His poor performances in the midfield 2 this season (and previous) have actually justified Arsene Wenger not signing him. With Mesut Ozil in the squad, Fabregas would have had to have played deeper, but he clearly does not have the attributes to play their at 30 years old. So his only role can be as a Number 10.
At Chelsea, he has found himself behind Eden Hazard and Pedro, playing behind Diego Costa. Willing runner Willian also often gets in the side ahead of him. It is this lack of game time that has led Fabregas to seek a new club this summer.
So should Arsenal make amends for what is a potentially clear mistake back in 2014 and re-sign Cesc Fabregas?
I am not sure.
He is now 30 years old and clearly still has his petulant streak and poor attitude. As Arsenal move forward to a 3-4-2-1 formation, he would clearly be unable to play as part of a two man midfield. He simply is not mobile enough.
Could Arsenal line up with Fabregas and Ozil behind Alexis Sanchez? This would be fairly exciting and a way to accommodate both Fabregas and Ozil. But it would also make us one dimensional. 2 excellent passers behind the striker, rather than a passer and a runner. Would it give us the most balance?
If Ozil stays, and we move Sanchez upfront, I would actually prefer a move for someone like Isco over Fabregas.
Isco is 5 years Fabregas’s junior and does not have his poor injury record. He might not be as good a passer, but he is much better driving forward with the ball. His ability to drop into a wide position is also essential in the 3-4-2-1 formation when the two attacking midfielders are expected to assist on the wings. Isco would simply be more suited.
There are reasons why Fabregas has started just 11 games for Chelsea this season. His immobility to play in a , and his inability to perform in a wider position when required too. Pedro and Hazard, like Ozil and Sanchez, or Isco, have this ability. These lack of attributes would not suddenly appear if he rejoined Arsenal.
What does need to be chucked into the mixer, however, is the future of Mesut Ozil.
If the German does go, it does leave us short of players who can make a game breaking pass. At that point, Arsenal should seriously consider the return of Cesc Fabregas, as there are still few better than him at spotting and executing an assist.
It is the same conundrum as Arsenal and Arsene Wenger faced in 2014. Can Arsenal accommodate Cesc Fabregas with Mesut Ozil in the side?
It is still a no from me.
Whether you would have Fabregas over Ozil is another debate.