After three years of incessant rumors, Barcelona have finally made a bid.
Arsenal have firmly rejected that bid, but it nonetheless represents a change in the long-running battle for the services of the midfielder. For the first time, the conflict exists beyond the murky world of rumor and innuendo.
Printing their desire to sign the Catalan midfielder on a legally binding document is a good first step for Barcelona, but will come to nothing if their offer cannot satisfy the demands of his current club.
There are plenty of reasons for Arsenal not to sell Fabregas. He is the rock upon which Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is building the club's future. His talent and leadership will not be easily replaced.
There are, however, good reasons for Arsenal to sell. The following are four reasons why Arsenal would benefit from selling their star.
To Make Them Competitive Sooner
Arsenal have done extremely well with the resources available to them, but it is undeniable that they are still a step below where they would like to be. The fans want to celebrate titles, and are becoming impatient with their status as the nearly-men of English football.
Contrary to popular belief, selling Cesc Fabregas is the fastest way for them to return to their former glory.
The biggest obstacle standing between Arsenal and titles is the club's debt. Arsene Wenger's parsimony on the transfer market, and the exodus of senior players have the same root cause: The debt from the construction of the Emirates Stadium.
The stadium has already begun to justify its cost by generating over 100 million pounds in annual matchday revenue, but the debt remains substantial. In order to pay it down, Arsenal have set a cap on player wages and transfer spending. The resulting difference between income and spending is used to chip away at the debt.
This is a long-term process that could be sped up significantly with the money Fabregas would bring. A hypothetical transfer fee of €45 million (a reasonable minimum) would reduce the net debt by nearly 25 percent.
If you combine this with Arsenal's predicted profits and income growth in the season ahead, come 2011, the London club would be able to boast one of the healthiest ratios of income to debt of any large European club.
So, while the sale of Fabregas may be a setback for the team on the field this season, it would allow Arsenal to compete on an even financial playing field immediately, rather than a few years down the line.
To Give Young Talent an Opportunity to Shine
If we think back to Fabregas's early years at Arsenal, it becomes clear that a key factor in his success was receiving the opportunity to play that he wasn't getting at Barcelona. A return to Catalonia would provide an opportunity for his successor(s) to grow into his shoes.
All the necessary ingredients are there.
Wenger is one of the best in the business at developing young talent. Arsenal's reserve squad is packed with talented youths. Arsenal have an established playing style from the youth academy to the first team to ease the transition. The rest of the midfield is settled and experienced enough for a campaign without their current captain.
The only thing lacking for a young player to truly break through is minutes. Fabregas's departure would provide them.
It happened in the wake of Viera's traumatic exit, it could easily happen again.
To End the Distraction Created by Rumors Surrounding Fabregas
The soap opera that is Fabregas-to-Barça has been tiresome for all involved. It has persisted for so long in large part because there is truth to it. Fabregas has always felt the pull of home.
He has been a loyal servant to Arsenal, but was never unequivocal enough to silence the press on either side of the channel. Barcelona must surely take some of the blame as well, but after so many years of the same, perhaps it is time to see these distractions as an inherent downside to an otherwise exemplary player.
In a sport where team unity is so fundamental, a captain who sends mixed signals to the Spanish press year after year, and provides amble reason to doubt his long-term commitment to the club can eventually become a liability.
So far, that negative aspect of retaining Fabregas has been easily outweighed by everything his performances bring to the team. Yet as the offers grow, surely this must factor into Arsenal's cost-benefit analysis.
To Avoid Keeping a Player Against His Will
As mentioned above, team unity is essential. Nothing is more disruptive to dressing room atmosphere than a player who doesn't want to be there.
If press reports are to be believed, Fabregas has already told Wenger that he wants to leave. If this is the case, Arsenal have little to gain by forcing him to stay.
Virtually every club that finds itself in a similar situation decides to acquiesce to the player's wishes for a very good reason: It is simply not worth it to push a player to the point of rebellion.
A long term contract may tie a player to a team, but it cannot guarantee attitude or performance. Since the margins between winning and losing are often so small, a single disgruntled player can have real consequences in results. He can also negatively affect teammates, as Ronaldinho's final season at Barcelona so clearly demonstrated.
A better strategy is to get the maximum performance from a player, but to sell him before the problems start.
It is hard to imagine Arsenal's captain behaving in this way, but everyone has their limit. Arsenal would do well to not push Fabregas past his.
Wenger is surely aware of all of these factors. The other side of the argument is also compelling, but history has shown that when the right circumstances present themselves, Wenger will not hesitate to sell any player, even his captain.
We may be approaching one of those moments now. Arsenal fans should prepare themselves and accept that it may be for the best.