Fabregas the midfield wizard believes it's time for his generation
Arsenal's young superstar is bullish despite loss of senior partners
People try to put them down, just because they knock it around. Cesc Fabregas was talking about his Arsenal generation in the company of The Who's Roger Daltry when the club unveiled the Teenage Cancer Trust as their season's charity at London's University College Hospital on Thursday.
Fabregas believes that generation is good enough to win the prizes that really count, although many critics continue to doubt them, all the more so after no fewer than three fellow midfielders – Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb and Gilberto Silva – brought summertime blues to the Emirates by walking away. Yesterday against Fulham the Gunners' midfield looked very lightweight and the Spaniard was sorely missed.
"I'm surprised reading things from ex-players who say things about Arsenal that are not positive," Fabregas said. "With Spain we were probably the second youngest side and we won the [Euro 2008] tournament. There will always be people who want to put us down but we have to be strong and keep fighting for our objective. We have to show the fans they can see good football but also win something."
After missing the opening matches against West Bromwich Albion and Fulham, he is ready to help the new signing Samir Nasri add a little more sparkle to the midfield, possibly with a cameo in Wednesday's second leg of a Champions' League qualifying tie effectively won already with a 2-0 lead over Steve McClaren's Twente Enschede. Barring a shock of the magnitude of McClaren's Dutch accent, Arsenal will know their fate in the group stage, which they have safely negotiated for the past eight seasons.
Two years ago, they went all the way to the final, only losing 2-1 to Fabregas's first club Barcelona after the unpredictable Jens Lehmann was sent off. "Devastated but proud," was how he felt. Last year the feelings were similar after a superb 2-0 win away to Milan was followed by that 4-2 quarter-final defeat at Liverpool, who still have work to do this Wednesday to improve on a goalless first leg against Standard Liege.
What lessons can be learnt from the narrow failures of the last few years? "We don't have to be afraid of anyone," he said. "You have to be positive and believe you can do it again and make it to the final at least. We have now the quality and the experience to do it."
This year, Fabregas insists, not next year, sometime or never: "You have to have belief in what you can achieve this year, not the future. I came here when I was 16, now I'm 21. I have an FA Cup and I want to have success for Arsenal."
The lack of medals has not diluted his affection for the club. Nor has the departure of good friends like Flamini and Hleb, although he admits: "They are big players and difficult to replace. Maybe in the middle we need somebody who can bring a new dimension.
"But Samir Nasri is very good and the boss knows what he's doing. I cannot remember any player that has left Arsenal and been a superstar [elsewhere]. Arsenal is Arsenal and this club has something special that no others have. I don't even want to think about leaving."
That is a relief to all Gooners, since it is difficult to underestimate his importance to the team. The inescapable truth was that when he grew tired in the second half of the season, scoring only two of his 13 goals, the side fell away in all four competitions. "We are not a squad like Chelsea, with 25 internationals. When you have six or seven important injuries, that's unfortunate."
Fabregas would be thrilled if another member of Spain's European Championship squad, Xabi Alonso, could be lured to London from Liverpool, as has been mooted. If not, Arsenal may have to prioritise as before. "To go for everything is very difficult," he admits. "In the FA Cup and Carling Cup players who don't have many chances can show how good they are. For every top team, the top targets are Premier League and Champions' League."
Acquiring the experience of Mikael Silvestre last week ought to help. Otherwise, Fabregas believes, the kids are alright.
To donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust, visit www.beagoonerbeagiver.org
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