Young guns fire salvo as Arsenal wait on Fabregas
Arsenal successfully defended the Emirates Cup by beating Celtic yesterday. Now, though, comes the difficult bit -- winning their first piece of serious silverware for five seasons.
And, as if finishing ahead of Chelsea, Manchester United and the rest in the Premier League or beating them in a cup final is not enough of a challenge -- not to mention seeing off the best in Europe in the Champions League -- Arsene Wenger also faces the unwanted complication of the Cesc Fabregas situation.
The Arsenal captain returns on Thursday from a four-week post-World Cup break, bringing with him the baggage that Wenger agrees is an unwelcome distraction to everyone at the club, including the other players.
Barcelona appear to have given up their pursuit of Fabregas for now, through the official channels at least.
But despite Wenger's insistence that his captain will see out the five years of his contract at the Emirates Stadium, the Catalan press and the Barca players continue to act as though the arrival of Fabregas at the Nou Camp is simply a matter of 'when' rather than 'if'.
The latest unwelcome intervention came on Saturday evening when Lionel Messi was asked about the Arsenal captain. "It is no secret that Cesc Fabregas is my friend," Messi said.
"He knows everyone, and I would like him to sign for Barcelona. I want Cesc to come. I hope the issue can be resolved and that Cesc can be a Barcelona player."
Some have suggested that Fabregas should be allowed to leave, thereby removing all further distractions, and giving Wenger money to spend on a replacement.
The problem is that Wenger, perversely, would probably then opt to give Alexandre Song, Denilson and Abou Diaby -- all missing yesterday -- a chance to show what they can do.
The performance against Celtic, though, would have given Wenger food for thought on the subject of young players, as his inexperienced team ran alarmingly out of steam, almost throwing away a three-goal lead.
Of course, he is unlikely to begin the first Premier League match of the season, away to Liverpool, with the teenaged central midfield pairing of Emmanuel Frimpong and Jack Wilshere, however well they have performed in pre-season.
Arsenal were famously the first English club to field an entire team of overseas players. Yet as the Gunners strolled to their now annual victory in the Emirates Cup it was the young English talent who most shone.
On Saturday, Wilshere dominated central midfield against AC Milan's decorated and experienced Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso. Yesterday, despite conceding a daft penalty, he stepped up another level to mastermind Arsenal's win over Celtic.
With Song and Denilson injured, Wilshere again started as a deeper-lying midfielder alongside the equally impressive Frimpong, yet also showed that rare ability to perfectly time his attacks. After three minutes, he combined with Theo Walcott to create the simplest of finishes for Carlos Vela.
Then, midway through the first half, he provided the moment from yesterday's match that will live longest in the memory. In a move that had clearly been practised, Tomas Rosicky floated a cross onto the edge of the penalty area where Wilshere was waiting to unleash a wonderfully timed left-footed volley that careered into the crossbar.
Last year, Wilshere was similarly outstanding during the Emirates Cup before being frozen out of meaningful first-team football until January when he was loaned to Bolton.
Wenger has decided that Wilshere will stay at Arsenal this season and, with the England-qualified Frimpong also developing well, he believes midfield is no longer an area that needs further reinforcement.
"I think both of them will have a big future," said Wenger, who believes Wilshere can play in England's Euro 2012 campaign "In 2012, Jack will be 20. You cannot rule it out.
"Wilshere is stronger than last year. What is interesting with him is that he can play on the flank or in the middle and he can play behind the striker or deeper."
Wenger has also revealed that Aaron Ramsey is recovering well and could realistically return in November. "Ramsey has started to jog; he will be back but at the moment when he starts to run with full power you still have to expect three months," he said.
With Bacary Sagna scoring a rare goal with his left foot to put the Gunners 2-0 ahead on the stroke of half-time, Walcott provided his second assist of the match to tee up Samir Nasri for Arsenal's third.
With Robin van Persie and Fabregas returning to training on Thursday, Arsenal do look particularly well equipped in midfield and attack, yet the way Celtic were able to score two second-half goals raised familiar defensive question-marks.
Indeed, Arsenal ultimately owed their victory to a combination of three excellent saves from Manuel Almunia and a dreadful penalty from Georgios Samaras after Wilshere had inexplicably wrestled Marc-Antoine Fortune to the floor.
Celtic have the daunting prospect of a three-goal deficit to overcome against Braga in the Champions League on Wednesday but, even with a much weakened team, showed enough in the final 20 minutes of yesterday's match to provide Neil Lennon with hope.
Waterford's Daryl Murphy pounced to score Celtic's first after Arsenal missed several chances to clear and Ki Sung-Yueng exploited huge defensive gaps to convert Fortune's cross and give the score some respectability. (© Independent News Service)
Arsenal (4-2-3-1) -- M Almunia; B Sagna (E Eboue 62), J Djourou, T Vermaelen (L Koscielny 73), G Clichy (K Gibbs 62); E Frimpong, J Wilshere; T Walcott, T Rosicky (S Nasri 46), C Vela (A Arshavin 62); J Emmanuel-Thomas (M Chamakh 46).
Celtic (4-3-3) -- L Zaluska (D Cervi 46); A Hinkel (G Samaras 61), T Rogne, J Hooiveld, C Mulgrew (F Twardzik 66); S Maloney, E Juarez, M Crosas (C Du-Ri 61); S-Y Ki, D Murphy G Hooper 86) M Rasmussen (M-A Fortune 61).