The handcuffs gesture was in Slovakia – Nicolas Anelka's comment on the French Football Federation. To listen to the noises emanating from Catalonia this summer one could expected a similar act at the Emirates when Cesc Fabregas scored. According to Barcelona their native son is being held against his will in Arsenal's gilded prison.
Well, he is, and he isn't. Fabregas clearly wanted to leave in the summer, but if first and enduring love is Barcelona there is no doubting the depth of his affection for Arsenal: for the club, the fans and the manager. Which is why the latter, Arsène Wenger, may be rewarded for insisting Fabregas stays.
There is always the risk when a player is denied a move that he will become disaffected. It is not just that he may then play poorly himself, he can also poison the atmosphere within the club. It is why managers eventually, and reluctantly, usually let players go. Manchester United did Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool did Javier Mascherano, and Everton did Joleon Lescott.
Wenger is an exception. In the past both Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor have been made to wait. Such stubbornness brought mixed results, Adebayor seemed especially disinterested in his final season, but there is reason to believe Fabregas will be different.
"It wasn't easy for him in the summer, he was under a lot of pressure, but he loves this club. People doubted that, but I never did," said Wenger last night. He added of his captain: "He's a leader and he shows that in his attitude on and off the pitch. He could have scored a hat-trick but I like the fact he gave the ball to Carlos Vela instead. That reflects the attitude of a leader, he does what the game wants and is not selfish."
Fabregas was instrumental in Arsenal's victory. Bursting forward from an advanced midfield position he both created chances and sought to convert them. Such was his desire he had twice threatened personally in the opening five minutes. Then he received Jack Wilshere's pass on the half-turn and, showing the awareness of all great players, immediately swivelled to release Marouane Chamakh behind Braga's back four. The Moroccan was subsequently brought down. Fabregas stepped up to take the kick. The mind rewound to his last penalty here, against Barcelona in the spring, when he lashed in the kick with a broken leg. This time he placed it and Arsenal were on their way.
Half-an-hour in he jinked across the front of the box, stepping around tackles, drawing opponents, before rolling a perfect pass into Andrei Arshavin's stride. There was also a chipped pass which set up Wilshere midway through the half that drew comparison with a similar ball from his old Barça youth team-mate Lionel Messi during Barcelona's rout on Tuesday. There was that rarest of goals, a Fabregas header at the far post for the fourth. There was also graft to go with the craft, Fabregas sprinting 40 yards to track Alan down the wing.
"He has taken on another dimension," said Wenger. "People forget he's 23 where other people start. He is a fantastic influence and it's important that he leads this team to winning. The young players, playing alongside him, it's a fantastic opportunity. If you're 18, like Wilshere, and you see Fabregas, it's a big opportunity to learn a lot."
The performance overall was that of a man in a hurry. And he is. The post-match criticism of his team-mates for easing up betrayed that. Arsenal may have resisted Barcelona's attempts to lure him "home" so far, but few expect Fabregas to be at the Emirates in 12 months time. He wants to go, but he wants to leave behind a happy club, which means lifting the Premier League or Champions League first.
Since Fabregas is fundamental to Arsenal's play, that means this season may also be the Gunners' last chance to win Europe's biggest prize for the foreseeable future. Can they do so? It is feasible. Arsenal's game has long seemed better suited to the subtleties of European football than the furies of the domestic game and they are stronger now than for several seasons. It is not known what Wenger said to Fabregas when the two had their tête-a-tête in the summer, but the manager could certainly claim he has acted to arrest the general impression that Arsenal are a work in progress, destined never to be finished. He has signed two decent central defenders and the increasingly impressive Chamakh. He did attempt to redress the goalkeeping problem. And he has given Wilshere, who more than ever looks Fabregas's successor, the chance to claim a place. The Englishmen has responded.
It seems unfair to lay such expectations on such a young man but if he learns his lesson off the pitch Arsenal may in time not miss Fabregas as much as they fear.Reuse content