Arsenal excited by the new Fabregas after dream start

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The Independent Online

Fran Merida has followed in Cesc Fabregas' footsteps by joining Arsenal from Barcelona. The 16-year-old midfielder caused a stir last Friday night when he marked his first appearance in English football with the goal of the game as a young Arsenal XI beat Boreham Wood 4-0 at Meadow Park.

Merida joined the Gunners this summer and, to judge by his swerving 25-yard strike against the Ryman League side, he has the potential to be a big success in England.

Neil Banfield, in charge of the side at Meadow Park last Friday, was full of praise for the youngster. "Fran is 16 years of age, a central midfield player, and we have high hopes for him," Banfield said. "He plays centrally and as we saw against [Boreham Wood] he's technically very good, he understands the game well and he looks a very good young player.

"I think the biggest challenge against a team like Boreham Wood is the physical side. There is a bit of rough and tumble to those kinds of games. Some of the lads we had in the side were 15 or 16, and they did very well."

Freddie Ljungberg has been named as Sweden's new captain by the coach Lars Lagerback. The Arsenal midfielder will replace the defender Olof Mellberg, who stepped down from the post on Monday, saying it was time for someone else to take over.

FC Copenhagen's Tobias Linderoth will stand in for Ljungberg in the friendly against Germany next Wednesday, however, because Ljungberg is out of action at present because of injury.

The squad selected by Lagerback for the friendly in Gelsenkirchen is missing several players from the team that lost 2-0 to Germany in the World Cup second round in June.

Sweden's prolific goalscorer Henrik Larsson said last month that he had called time on his international career and Djurgarden's Mattias Jonson has told Lagerback he is also quitting the international stage. "I don't think one should try to persuade players to continue. You can just respect [their decisions]," Lagerback said.

Stewart Downing has brushed aside speculation linking him with a move to Tottenham Hotspur by insisting that he wants to stay at Middlesbrough. The 22-year-old England left-winger believes he can fulfil his ambitions at the Riverside.

"It's flattering to be linked with clubs," Downing said, "but I'm contracted to Boro for four more years. I'm happy to stay. I said at the start of last season that I could achieve European football and fulfil my international ambitions at Boro and a lot of people laughed. But we ended up in the final of the Uefa Cup, the semi-finals of the FA Cup and I played in the World Cup."

Downing's international ambitions will not be harmed by having his former club manager Steve McClaren now in charge of England, but the player insists he has to fight for his place. "Steve knows exactly what I can do and I hope to be included," he said, "but there are a lot of players fighting to get in the squad. I'm up for the challenge, though."

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