After his majestic debut for Chelsea against Burnley, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for casting jealous glances towards Cesc Fabregas. Seeing him parade around the pitch in Chelsea blue is a strange sight for Arsenal supporters who watched him grow up a Gunner.
The way things have panned out rankles with huge swathes of the Arsenal fanbase. Fabregas’ availability was the worst-kept secret of the summer. Barcelona were entering a rebuilding phase, and selling off the midfield schemer was a surefire way to generate funds. Arsenal were the beneficiary of that remodelling process when they took Alexis Sanchez from the Nou Camp to the Emirates Stadium.
However, in the case of Fabregas, Arsene Wenger decided not to act. Arsenal had a "first option" agreement on their former player, enabling them to jump the queue to secure his signature. Nevertheless, Wenger turned up his nose.
Watching Fabregas’ glorious assist at Turf Moor, he might have been given cause for reconsideration. Instead, Wenger has remained stoic. Speaking to ESPN, he said:
I have no regret about that at all. My regret is that he left us.
It was strange [seeing Fabregas play for Chelsea], but you have to accept that professional players move from club to club.
It was difficult for him to leave us, but after that you accept he can move to some different clubs. Of course it was a bit strange, but he had a good game.
Perhaps Wenger’s sense of security comes from the presence in his squad of a certain Mesut Ozil. Ozil must have been a huge factor in Wenger’s decision not to sign the Catalan playmaker.
Had Fabregas become available a year earlier, Wenger might have opted for the Spaniard over the German. There would have been obvious advantages to bringing him back: He is an iconic figure at Arsenal and knows both the club and the league inside out. No period of adaptation would have been required.
However, at that time, Barcelona still wanted to keep hold of Fabregas. Instead, Wenger moved for Ozil. Having invested more than £40 million and a year of development, it would make no sense to jettison that project.
In signing the likes of Sanchez, Wenger has indicated that he is building a squad around Ozil’s strengths. All possible resource is going into getting the best out of the mercurial midfielder.
Recruiting Fabregas to play alongside him might have cramped Ozil’s style. Ozil is at his best when he has the full belief of his manager. Choosing him over Fabregas is effectively an enormous vote of confidence.
That in turn creates pressure on Ozil to perform. Having been anointed as the man Wenger wants to build a team around, he must deliver. Ozil returns to the Arsenal squad this weekend, and expectation will be high. If his performances dip, and Fabregas continues to impress at Chelsea, critics will undoubtedly circle.
However, Ozil has the talent to avoid such scrutiny. If he keeps his head and his fitness, there is no reason this can’t be his season. Come May, Wenger’s decision to put his faith in Ozil rather than Fabregas could look very wise indeed.