Arsene Wenger believes that his 23-year-old captain Cesc Fabregas places himself under "too much" pressure. The Spaniard has been Arsenal captain for over two years, and his manager revealed that leading a team so frustrated in its pursuit of trophies was a "heavy burden" on the young midfielder.
Fabregas assumed the Arsenal captaincy in November 2008, after the armband was taken from William Gallas. Since the departures of Thierry Henry, Gilberto Silva and Jens Lehmann he has been without question Arsenal's senior player and has made more first-team appearances than anyone else currently at the club. Moreover, he is the team's creative mainspring, dynamic force and penalty-taker.
Wenger fears that this accumulation of responsibilities results in the Spaniard demanding more from himself than he ought to. "It is too much for him at his age, I believe so," Wenger said. "Of course, but he is the captain of the team and [Robin] van Persie is vice-captain and they put a lot of pressure on themselves."
This pressure was problematic, according to Wenger, because it led to his assuming responsibility for Arsenal's trophy drought. Their last major honour was the 2005 FA Cup, and the manager suggested that Fabregas's disaffection – as displayed in a recent interview with a Spanish magazine – was a function of his desire for silverware. "Cesc is a winner," Wenger said. "He wants to win, he is desperate to win the games. And of course, when it does not work, he is frustrated."
It was only because Fabregas is yet to lift a trophy as Arsenal captain, Wenger said, that the pressure on him was telling. "It is too much because it doesn't go as well," he suggested. "Once it will go well, he will grow with it as well. Every difficulty in life will make you stronger, especially when you have a strong character. He is a strong character. And it will make him stronger. Maybe this season it is a bit of a heavy burden."
When asked whether the burden was so much that he may take the captaincy away from Fabregas, Wenger said no. But he did admit a desire to help Fabregas by introducing players of similar experience, and said that this was one of the reasons for his re-signing former goalkeeper Lehmann last month. "We certainly try to bring in some more experience. One of the reasons I took Lehmann back as well when we were close to the end was that, you know, because he has done it." He was clear, though, that Lehmann merited his return: "We needed a goalkeeper as well in March. It is not easy to find a goalkeeper with the quality of Jens Lehmann with his experience."
Lehmann brought with him experience of having won the title with Arsenal; he played in the 2003-04 "Invincibles" side. The current generation are yet to win a trophy together, and Wenger expressed his frustration at the squandered opportunity of the Carling Cup final. "It would have taken a little bit of weight from the shoulders of the players," he said of the missed chance. "For me, the Carling Cup in itself is not important, but what it could have given – a little bit of playing with less weight on your shoulders."
Since the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham, Arsenal have won two of their 10 games; they were swiftly eliminated from the FA and European Cups, and have taken just 8 from the last 21 available Premier League points.
They go into tomorrow's match with Manchester United nine points behind the league leaders. Wenger remains positive about his team, though, and their potential for success. "I believe that this team has been educated, grown together," he said. "They are very young. The biggest achievement for them will be to win together. I think they will have learnt their job the hard way. They will have learnt their job when expectation is very high. They have been criticised a lot and they do not get the credit they deserve. Once they win, they will be stronger."
Abou Diaby is out of tomorrow's game with a calf injury and it comes too soon for Thomas Vermaelen, who played for the reserves on Thursday.