Arsène Wenger believes that Cesc Fabregas must publicly state his loyalty to Arsenal or risk the club's season being overshadowed by the saga of his possible move to Barcelona.
Fabregas returns to the Emirates on 5 August after an extended summer break for the official club photocall, and Wenger has admitted that only a statement by his captain will quell the widespread belief that he will end up at the Nou Camp sooner or later. "It's important, when he comes back, that he comes out [and speaks]," Wenger said yesterday. "Only Fabregas can clear the air.
"Cesc has five years to go on his contract and that's it, but the speculation doesn't stop. Who can stop it? Only Cesc, and maybe not even him. We cannot go into a season where every day you only read about that. He has not played today, and I sit here and speak about Fabregas.
"This story has, in the last six months, made our life difficult. Noises come back from Spain and are translated here. Barcelona certainly have a case [of tapping up] to answer but it's always the same: how do you prove it?"
However, Wenger believes that the attempts to unsettle Fabregas no longer emanate from the club. "Barça has given up for a long time. The people who say they have not given up are the newspapers, but the newspapers do not make that decision."
Assuming it is forthcoming, evidence from Fabregas that his head has not been permanently turned by Barcelona's blandishments will be vital for Arsenal's prospects of success. A sell-out for yesterday's first day of the Emirates Cup was a testament to the team's ability to entertain, but how many of the 60,000 watching the action seriously expect the hosts to challenge for the Barclays Premier League this season?
One, at least: Wenger retains his faith that his skilful young team will develop into winners. Around 54,999 others – Celtic sold 5,000 tickets – remain sceptical, unsure whether Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh have added enough quality to allow Arsenal to contend. They want to believe that Fabregas will stay, that there will be more signings, that this will be the year, but they doubt it.
Wenger, though, is sure that this season the honours emblazoned around the upper tier of the stadium can finally be joined by a trophy won since Arsenal moved over the road from Highbury four years ago.
"I am confident that we will do it," he said. "We have to remind ourselves that we decided to go with a very young team three or four years ago and we have developed this team. Two years ago we were quite far but last year in April we were two points away from the top. Normally we should be closer again because that development is part of a young team."
Wenger knows that a sixth barren season since the 2005 FA Cup final victory over United would be blamed by many on his failure to invest money that the club insist is available. He has not ruled out more signings before the transfer window closes, but plays down their importance.
"I know in England when you do not win the championship it's always about buying. But we are not a team that is at the end of a cycle, we are at the start of a cycle. So our future will be decided not by who we buy or need but as well by how much we improve.
"The money will not be an excuse if we do not achieve our targets. We know the world we live in. But by the beginning of August [when Fabregas and Robin van Persie return] we will have the quality of players to fight at the top. We have two international players in every position."
Unfortunately, so have many of their rivals, and Wenger expects a more open Premier League. "I feel there will be more teams fighting for the title. We saw that at the start of last season as well, all of the top teams lost points against the 'second part' of the Premier League. That trend could even become stronger this year."
The development that he welcomes least is the new rule that restricts squads to 25 players, which he calls "disastrous". "It leaves, first of all, many players without clubs. Secondly, it puts the clubs in a weak position in the transfer market, because when you already have 25 players and you buy another one, you know you have 26 and now have to get rid of one. I was quite amazed that the union accepted that. The big clubs will always have 25 top players and you will not stop that by this kind of decision."
The one part of the new ruling that does not worry him is the insistence that eight of the 25 must qualify as "homegrown". "Not through coincidence, but through hard work, we now have a good English generation, and I play them because they are good, not because of the rule. Jack Wilshere was on loan to Bolton last season, Emmanuel Frimpong impressed me and that's why I've played him in pre-season. So it's not linked with the rule. And," he grinned, "players like Fabregas qualify as homegrown..."Reuse content