Arsenal: Picking a Starting XI to Include Cesc Fabregas
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A year ago, this would have been such a farfetched and irrational question that you might have immediately scrolled down to the comments to leave some defaming vitriol ridiculing me for my naïveté, before taking to Twitter to emphasize the point.
Alright, I'd like to think not. But the idea of Arsenal buying Fabregas back so soon after letting him go seemed impossible not that long ago.
Recently, however, certain developments have made a glorious return a bit more likely.
First, there was Barcelona's elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Bayern Munich.
For any normal club, progressing to the semifinals of the world's greatest club competition would be something to be proud of, regardless of the result. But the Blaugrana's epic 7-0 two-leg meltdown seems to be more than a disappointing defeat: It is a shift in the world football paradigm, a transfer of power from Catalonia to Bavaria.
Fabregas moved to Barcelona in large part to be a part of one of, if not the greatest club team the world has ever known. That era seems to be ending.
And whatever Pep Guardiola's plan might have been for Fabregas when he was brought aboard in 2011, it seems to have been forgotten or discounted.
There seems to be no place for him to play in an unbelievably stacked Barcelona team, and that has led to Fabregas being deployed in a number of roles that are not suited to his talents.
All three of the spots in Barca's midfield are taken by arguably the best players in the world at their respective positions.
Fabregas is not a defensive midfielder, and thus cannot replace Sergio Busquets. Xavi is Xavi, and Fabregas is more suited to a more creative role, anyway. That hole is filled by the man who plays that position better than anyone else in the world: Andres Iniesta.
So it has not been uncommon to see Fabregas deployed as a roving winger or even as a sort of second striker for Barcelona—both spots that a midfielder like him is simply not suited to playing in.
Even worse, he has often started games on the bench. That is simply unacceptable for a player of his talent as he enters the prime of his career.
So we return to this other option that Fabregas has. Might he potentially seek refuge with Arsenal, where he began his professional career?
While a blockbuster transfer is still very unlikely, let's examine how Arsenal might line up if Fabregas does come back.
There would obviously be no change in goal or in defense, so the back five of Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna (or Carl Jenkinson, if Sagna moves on), Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs would remain.
But Arsene Wenger will suddenly be flush with options in midfield and attack.
The Gunners' depth in the center of the pitch will be astounding. Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and potentially even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all viable starting options. I won't even get into Abou Diaby.
Add Fabregas to that mix, and we have chaos.
Squad rotation would necessarily occur, as will injuries, suspensions and loss of form. But it's tough to pick an ideal trio of midfielders out of all those world-class options.
Mikel Arteta's ability to lead and ability to dictate the tempo of the game while shielding the defense will probably allow him to retain his role at the back of the midfield. A fit Jack Wilshere possesses such dynamic passing and dribbling ability that he is impossible to bench.
He will have to act as the fulcrum between Arteta and the attacking midfielder because Fabregas is, by far, the best creator of the aforementioned players and would certainly regain his old role as the focus of the attack.
That would relegate the recently-superb Aaron Ramsey to the bench, which would be a shame. But that's what rotation is for.
Wenger will also find it irresistible to leave Santi Cazorla on the bench. And he can be included in this starting XI. But that would necessitate shifting him to the left wing, where he has played recently, but is marginalized and deprives Arsenal's attack of width.
Lukas Podolski and his rifle of a left foot would necessarily be sacrificed. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott would be unaffected, unless Wenger opted for Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho in place of the latter.
In summary, Arsenal would look like this on the opening day of next season, barring any injuries or unforeseen transfers:
It's certainly not the most likely lineup, but not as ridiculous as the Gunners buying Cristiano Ronaldo or something of equivalent likelihood.
If Arsenal actually could manage to bring Fabregas back to the club, they would be set up for a run at the Premier League title. For the first time in his Arsenal career, he would have the type of quality and depth around him that it takes to win the most grueling league in the world.
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