After a summer of Catalan overtures and intense media speculation surrounding the future of Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal look set to keep hold of the jewel in their crown. If only they had a crown.
The 2005 FA Cup Final remains the last time that the Gunners lifted silverware as their penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester United signalled the start of a barren, trophyless spell. Arsene Wenger has already charged Fabregas with the burden of delivering a trophy to the club in the coming season, yet a lack of trophies appears to be a key factor in the player voicing his desire to leave. Despite the speculation, Fabregas returned to Arsenal for the members’ day open training session on Thursday and took his place in the team photo. Of his midfield maestro, Arsene Wenger identified: “The biggest achievement for him now is to help us win the championship… It is always in the interests of the player to perform. If he is a champion, he goes on the football pitch and wants to be the best he can.” Whether delivering a trophy would prove a swansong to his Arsenal career or the catalyst for a prolonged stay remains to be seen, but regardless of what a trophy would eventually come to signify, Arsenal fans are desperate for some silverware.
The 2004/05 season saw the remnants of the Invincibles claim their last trophy before dispersing and it also marked the point at which Arsenal introduced Fabregas into the first team and began to build their side around his creative talent. Since then, a carousel of player transfers has resulted in key personnel around the playmaker departing for one reason or another. From Edu and Patrick Vieira, through Jose Antonio Reyes and Alexander Hleb to Mathieu Flamini and Thierry Henry, a lack of consistency in personnel has cost Arsenal dear. False dawns such as the 2007/08 title tilt are promptly followed by periods of regeneration and growth in the wake of departed players. A mixture of unsettled players, ageing talents and inhibitive wage demands mean that blame doesn’t sit squarely at any individual’s door. However, Wenger’s utopian ideal of moulding a youthful side of talented individuals into another all-conquering team is consistently hamstrung by these departures.
Patience is the key. Not only is it key to ending Arsenal’s comparative trophy drought, it is also equally applicable to the transfer saga surrounding Fabregas. The footballing climate has changed drastically since Arsene Wenger’s arrival in N5, and the scene looks set to change again for the coming season. Through his own innovative coaching methods and youth development, Le Professeur has irreversibly changed the landscape of English football, a change so dramatic and widespread in its reach that only football’s financial revolution can rival it. The increasing emphasis upon football teams as to be ran as businesses rather than clubs has seen both winners and losers, but Wenger’s prudent management appears to have made Arsenal robust enough to withstand the latest changes. The move to the Emirates Stadium is already reaping financial dividends – even if the success is yet to be matched on the pitch – and the financial muscle of Chelsea and Manchester United no longer reverberates around the transfer market as it once did. Only Manchester City appear willing to pay exorbitant fees so the benefits to Arsenal of the changing climate appear threefold.
Premier League rivals seem unable to land marquee signings such as Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney or Fernando Torres any more, meaning that the relatively young Arsenal squad will be able to continue to develop as a team without the Gunners’ rivals being bolstered by multi-million pound signings year upon year. Secondly, the homegrown quota is unlikely to impact upon Arsenal’s youthful squad as it may elsewhere in the league and with a strong British contingent headed by Jack Wilshere and surprise revelation Emmanuel Frimpong emerging from the academy, the future prognosis is healthy.
Finally, the change in the transfer climate is not confined to the English league with Spanish giants Real Madrid a pale reflection of the free-spending force of only a year ago and Barcelona enduring well-documented financial difficulties. With Barcelona unwilling or unable to pay an exorbitant fee to land Fabregas, Arsenal are following a similar approach to that of Manchester United in Real’s pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Unless Arsenal receives a fantastic offer, the player will stay. Gunners fans will be hoping that the Spaniard will drive the side to glory and confine the speculation surrounding his future to a mere footnote to the Gunners’ first silverware in six years. With renewed optimism and their captain back amongst the ranks, Arsenal look set to build upon last season’s platform and vindicate Wenger’s faith.