Ever since his departure from Barcelona almost seven years ago it was always a case of when, not if, Cesc Fabregas would return to the Nou Camp.
Sadly for Arsenal fans, that day appears nigh as Fabregas made clear to his mentor Arsene Wenger that he wishes to leave the Emirates, and return.
Few can blame Fabregas for wishing to leave. Barcelona, his boyhood team, are currently in the midst of a period of genuine greatness.
The prospect of returning to play in a winning team, alongside friends such as Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi, and coached by his idol Pep Guardiola, is too great.
The Barcelona he left behind seven years ago was a far different place from the one he will join today, which rather than importing stars, develops them from within. The controversy of Fabregas’ initial move taught the hierarchy a valuable lesson.
Now, with his cards laid out on the table, Barcelona can make the move they have long wanted to make. Quite where he fits in a Barcelona team replete with world class talent is another question, but hardly a bad dilemma to face.
The question now is where would Fabregas’ decision leave Arsenal?
There is no question that it is a critical blow, especially for the club's fans who had so taken the Spaniard to their hearts.
It is a damning blow too for Arsene Wenger, for whom the Spaniard was both a leader for this team and a player in whom he has invested so much faith.
Whether his departure has quite the same impact as those of Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, the difference was that while Wenger timed their departures until the powers of both were waning, Fabregas still has plenty more to offer.
The Frenchman is now at a critical juncture in his reign, which is now facing greater scrutiny from the club’s fans after five years without silverware.
While the sale of the aforementioned Henry and Vieira were blows, the sale of Fabregas sends out an altogether different message, one which the club’s major players will not ignore.
After years of patiently building a team with the stated intention of once again ruling the Premier League, Wenger is now facing a fourth consecutive season where a big-name player has left the Emirates no way to build for success.
The fall out of watching their leader’s disenfranchisement from Wenger’s beliefs and principles could lead others to follow, with the likes of Robin Van Persie, Gael Clichy and Andrei Arshavin all likely to attract sustained interest.
It is precisely this reason why the sale of Fabregas represents so much of a test for Wenger, not only for his numerous qualities as a player, but for his presence as a figurehead for this generation of Arsenal players.
So in the wake of his captain’s departure, the onus falls on Wenger to respond in kind and act decisively to dispel the sense of foreboding which has gripped the Emirates.
Money, and lots of it, will flood the coffers at the Emirates judging by the extravagant fees being mentioned-Wenger would be foolish to stick to his principles and not spend it.
Replacing Fabregas as a player on the pitch will undoubtedly be difficult, but the club will hope that in the spirit of regeneration, one of Abou Diaby, Denilson or Samir Nasri will step up. It is a shame for Wenger that Aaron Ramsey, a capable replacement, is injured.
Bringing in Fabregas’ replacements from elsewhere is no easy matter, though the considerable talents of Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff or Everton’s Mikel Arteta may compensate for the loss.
Replacing his leadership qualities is another issue, and one that cuts to the core of the problem of this Arsenal team. Wenger’s side have always been light on leaders, now with Fabregas and possibly William Gallas exiting, they are even lighter on them.
The key for Wenger is to act decisively to ensure that the weaknesses that saw his team collapse towards the end of the season and that Fabregas feels are enough to turn his away from the Arsenal cause are eradicated.
The Frenchman has publicly stated his need to rebuild a defense which was too porous to win trophies, while the need for a goalkeeper and reinforcement upfront, despite Chamakh’s arrival, are well documented.
But as much as who he signs, it could be what he signs that could determine how well Arsenal survive this latest test.
Signing players of substance today rather than stars for tomorrow should be the order for Wenger’s summer, sending a message that the club are far from finished.
The departure of his captain and protégé leaves the Arsenal manager facing arguably his biggest test, now it is up to him to prove that both he and his team are up to passing it.
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