Glorious night might convince Fabregas to stay
Published 17/02/2011 | 05:00
The chant that boomed out around the Emirates on the final whistle could hardly have been delivered with more passion or satisfaction. "We've got Cesc Fabregas."
Yet there was a period of last summer when bookies were pretty sure he was going to join Barcelona.
Fabregas had told Arsene Wenger he wanted to return home, two formal offers had been tabled and Arsenal were left with the unappealing choice of a weakened team or an unhappy captain.
Wenger, though, had season-defining occasions like this in mind when he refused to compromise on one of his genuinely world-class players and backed himself to man-manage Fabregas through the storm.
This was also a game to provide answers to some of the questions Fabregas has surely been asking himself. Can he fulfil his ambitions with this young Arsenal squad? Would his hunger be diminished by not getting his way? And could he even get into the Barcelona team?
There is considerable doubt over that final point. Of the three central positions that Fabregas (right) could conceivably fill, two are filled by arguably the greatest midfielders of the era in Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and the third by holding specialist Sergio Busquets.
Yet, as he proved in the World Cup final, the great quality of Fabregas -- an ability to spot and execute defence-splitting passes -- is pretty much unrivalled in world football.
That was also demonstrated with his first touch last night when he delightfully lifted the ball over both Daniel Alves and Gerard Pique to present Robin van Persie with a chance that was ultimately smothered by Victor Valdes.
Fabregas is less comfortable in tight spaces than some of his former Barcelona team-mates, but his ability to drive forward into dangerous areas is superior. That relentless energy was the catalyst for Arsenal's best spell of the match during the second half, with his pass also beginning the move for Andrey Arshavin's winning goal.
The big question is whether being a squad man at Barca would be better for his career than leading an Arsenal team who are genuinely closing the gap to Europe's elite.
As Barcelona predictably enjoyed over 60pc of possession last night, there must have been moments, even during such a memorable victory, when Fabregas wondered what he would become in such a team.
Intriguingly, Fabregas used his programme notes to deliver the very message of patience that Wenger would have been preaching directly to him over the past year. "My friends (Carles) Puyol and Xavi didn't win anything until they were 26," Fabregas said.
"They always remind me to be patient, it will come. They have now won everything in football. That shows you how football can change so, so quickly and that patience is the key to everything."
And, in fairness, there can be no doubting the hunger of Fabregas since he was refused the chance to join Barcelona. Yes, he has been petulant and badly behaved towards officials at various times this season.
But at no stage has there been any question over his willingness to put his body on the line for Arsenal. He again covered more distance last night than any of his team-mates.
The key fact often overlooked in the great Fabregas debate is that his contract does not expire until 2015. That puts Arsenal in a strong position for at least the next two years -- and it would seem that Wenger has encouraged Fabregas to look upon his career in two distinct phases.
The here and now, when he could potentially lead this team into a new era of success. And then, in 2012 or 2013, when he can choose where he will fulfil the peak years of his career.
Increasingly, that decision does not feel like a foregone conclusion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)