10 Midfielders Arsene Wenger Could Sign This Summer to Replace Cesc Fabregas
It has been widely speculated that we are witnessing the final season for Arsenal's talismanic captain Cesc Fabregas at the Emirates. On the heels of last summer's verbal tug of war over the Spaniard's services between Arsene Wenger and Barcelona, a return home for the native Catalonian, long thought to be an inevitable eventuality, could well happen this summer.
While he has been plagued by a series of nagging injuries during much of his stay in North London, it's plain to the eye what a significant difference the playmaker's presence makes when he is healthy. If he does opt to take his talents back to Spain, it leaves a gaping hole in Wenger's side. Much of what the Frenchman tries to do tactically centers around Fabregas and his vision, creativity and preternatural understanding of timing and space. When he is out of the lineup, Arsenal's intricate passing game is visibly handicapped.
If Fabregas departs, it will behoove Wenger to replace him with as high-caliber a player as he can, both from an on-field perspective and from a PR standpoint. This will be made easier by the sheer magnitude of the transfer fee the Spaniard will return should he go. With the EPL finish line drawing nearer, the discussion over the Catalan's future has already begun, with Goal.com revealing in March that Fabregas could be allowed to leave if Barcelona tables an offer in the vicinity of £45 million. Barcelona club president Sandro Rosell balked at the figure, claiming the Catalan giants can't afford to go that high. Clearly the discussion is open, but many people around the Emirates seem to be of the opinion that it will be very difficult to retain Fabregas for another year against his will.
With a ballpark figure to work with, the big question is: If their captain sets sail, who will man his position for the Gunners next season? Surely, big shoes would be needed to replace Europe's most creative player, who creates a chance every 29 minutes from open play.
Here are 10 top-class midfielders who could be available for around the same amount of cash the sale of Fabregas would likely yield.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #1: Yoann Gourcuff
Described by former France international David Ginola as the best French player of his generation, Olympique Lyonnais' 24-year-old playmaker, Yoann Gourcuff, is perhaps the most similar player to Fabregas on this list in terms of playing skill and technical ability. While his name has been bandied about as a potential replacement for the Catalan captain since last summer, there is good reason for that.
With a move to a new country and a new team comes an inevitable period of adjustment—just ask Gourcuff about his spell in Milan. With Arsenal, however, the midfielder would be reunited with an old friend in Marouane Chamakh. The two combined to form one of the most lethal duos on the continent, and Gourcuff was named the French Player of the Year for 2009. Chamakh is on record as saying he would welcome a reunion with his former FCGB teammate.
After signing with OL last summer for €22 million, it remains to be seen whether Arsene Wenger would be able to pry Gourcuff away from Lyon if his playmaker should leave. From my perspective, if a transfer fee can be negotiated that isn't too far over the odds, than Gourcuff represents the best option to replace Cesc Fabregas in Wenger's Arsenal side.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #2: Rafael Van Der Vaart
Okay, I admit it. Half of the reason for Rafael Van Der Vaart's inclusion in this list, is the mouth-watering prospect of snatching him away from Harry Redknapp's Tottenham side. The other half, is van der Vaart's blistering form in his first season in the Premier League.
He is a major reason that Spurs have been able to maintain its top-four status in the league and progress to the Champions League Quarterfinals—though after a humbling 4-0 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid, their viability in that competition is very much in doubt.
Since joining Tottenham, the Dutchman has scored 12 goals across all competitions and is a nominee for the PFA Player of the Year Award.
A superb technical footballer, the 28-year-old attacking midfielder possesses the quality to beat opponents with either foot, but is also somewhat aggressive on the pitch, something that may raise red flags with Arsene Wenger when it comes to replacing his cool-headed captain. Although, to be fair, both players have only been shown red once in their respective careers.
The Holland international has complained about rarely being given 90 minutes at Spurs, and was reported to have made some noises along the lines of a summer move, but has backed off that position more recently.
That being said, the prospects of moving across town to a club like Arsenal, especially with a promise of significant pitch time, surely would appeal to van der Vaart. Also, if Spurs fail to qualify for next season's Champions League, they may be forced to sell off some of their stars, according to the Daily Mail, making this possibility ever more tangible.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #3: Joao Moutinho
The Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho seems to be embroiled in one transfer saga after another during every window, and there have been no shortage of rumors that culminate in the dynamic midfielder signing on at the Emirates over the past few years.
Little has changed.
Despite signing with FC Porto in 2010, speculation about a move to a larger club/league remains rampant, although he would now likely command a fee well in excess of €20 million.
Moutinho is an interesting candidate to potentially replace Fabregas, as not only does he possesses the requisite vision and skill, but he is also an extremely versatile player, capable of playing any position in the midfield.
He has been capped 27 times with the Portuguese National Team.
The player has said repeatedly in the past that he would find a move to England hard to resist, and if Fabregas departs for Spain, Arsene Wenger could well make a run at the young Porto midfielder.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #4: Bastian Schweinsteiger
With over 240 appearances for Bavarian giants Bayern Munich, Bastian Schweinsteiger is an established star for both club and country. He can play wide or in a more central role in the midfield, and would certainly do much to replace the dominant presence of Cesc Fabregas in the middle of Arsene Wenger's side.
Would he sign with Arsenal? Maybe. Would Bayern sell him? Probably not.
Schweinsteiger signed a long-term contract extension in 2010 that keeps him at the Allianz Arena until 2016. No player is off limits provided the money is right, but that being said, it seems unlikely the Arsenal board would be interested in ponying up the type of cash required to purchase the German midfielder.
If they did, however, the player they would get in return would be of the highest quality.
I'll mark this one down as about as likely as multi-national corporations developing consciences. Still, it's certainly an intriguing possibility.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #5: Eden Hazard
Arsene Wenger's interest in Eden Hazard, the 19-year-old Belgian winger, is no secret.
The young midfielder for Lille has drawn comparisons to Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi from certain quarters, and is understandably one of the more sought after young players in the world. Comfortable as either an attacking midfielder or on the wing, Hazard's creativity, speed and technical ability make him an ideal candidate to fill the hole that would be left by the departure of Cesc Fabregas.
Hazard is not only the reigning Ligue 1 UNFP Young Player of the Year, he is also the first non-French player to win the award and the only player to win it twice.
With reports indicating that Arsene Wenger will hold an offseason fire sale, Hazard has been identified as a potential target—even if Fabregas doesn't leave. While the prospects of Hazard bringing his considerable talents to the Emirates are appetizing enough, the thought of him playing alongside Arsenal's Spanish captain is simply delightful.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #6: Steven Gerrard
Here's where we take a sharp turn into the realm of the purely hypothetical. This would cause such an uproar, such a revolt among Liverpool supporters, that it is unlikely that it could be done without bloodshed.
If Arsenal sign Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, there may well be another civil war in England.
That being said, Reds fans shouldn't worry too much, as I can't for the life of me envision a scenario where this would actually happen. Not only does Arsene Wenger typically not favor veteran English players, but Liverpool would likely demand such a steep price for the 30-year-old midfielder that it would take all the money from the sale of Cesc Fabregas to land him. Decidedly over the odds for a player with a recent history of injuries, Gerrard is also staring at the back nine of his best years.
As far as a hypothetical replacement, Gerrard is one of the few players in the world who could actually replace Fabregas in the midfield. While certainly best used as a central midfielder, Gerrard can also play as a second striker or right-winger. The England captain is one of the greatest footballers in the world, and widely renowned for his long-range striking ability.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target # 7: Xavi Hernandez
This one is actually kind of ridiculous. There is no way that either the imperious midfielder or Barcelona would agree to an exit. Simply put, Xavi Hernandez might be the best central midfielder in the world. He is certainly the heart and soul of the best Spain side in history.
The main reason I include him in this list is twofold: First, he obviously would be a more than adequate replacement for Cesc Fabregas, being perhaps the only player who represents an improvement.
Second, I can't help but smile when I think of how great it would be if after his fierce lobbying for the signing of Fabregas at Camp Nou, Xavi were suddenly informed he was surplus to requirements, and became available to Arsene Wenger. That would be hilarious.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #8: Wesley Sneijder
How nice would Wesley Sneijder look in an Arsenal kit?
With rumors swirling that he could be on his way out of Inter, and with the club's puzzling form in their heavy defeat against Schalke 04 in the first leg of their Champions League tie, the Milanese giants may no longer hold the same allure they once did for the Dutch international.
Holland's tremendous run to the 2010 World Cup Final seems to have put to bed any lingering rumors of bad blood between Sneijder and Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, and the pair would undoubtedly forge a lethal partnership at the Emirates.
However, the Dutch string puller, one of the world's most dangerous men over a dead ball, is reportedly keen on signing with Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, who may be prepared to shatter the club's previous transfer fee record and pay in excess of £30 million for the services of the Goal.com Player of the Year in 2009/10. But the sale of Fabregas could free up the necessary funds for the Gunners to intervene in United's summer plans.
Sneijeder is quick and strong on the ball, and his ambidexterity greatly enhances his passing game, so to be sure, he would be a worthy successor to Cesc Fabregas in the Arsenal midfield.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #9: Marek Hamsik
While many people have posited that young Santos striker and Chelsea target Neymar may in fact play in a Flock of Seagulls cover band in his spare time, it is entirely possible that Napoli's young Slovakian playmaker, Marek Hamsik, is one of his band mates. With a gravity-defying do and enough raw talent to be making mouths water throughout the footballing world, Hamsik is thought to be attracting attention from both Chelsea and Arsenal.
The 23-year-old would certainly be a better fit with the Gunners current tactical outlook, and could be easily inserted into the starting XI, filling Fabregas' role with little difficulty. The problem is the interest from Chelsea. Despite the obvious advantages of an Arsenal move from a style standpoint, the Blues could easily beat any bid tabled by Arsene Wenger, thanks to the near limitless coffers of owner Roman Abramovich. Man. U. is also rumored to have some interest in the player.
It is thought Hamsik could be had for around £20 million, but if the player hits the transfer market it is likely that a host of other clubs could jump in to the mix, raising the fee significantly.
Potential Arsenal Transfer Target #10: Toni Kroos
At just 21 years of age, Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos already has a wealth of domestic and international experience. An integral member of Germany's 2010 World Cup squad that made an exciting run to the semifinals at South Africa, Kroos would be an intriguing option to fill the boots of Cesc Fabregas in the center of the Arsenal midfield.
Primarily an attacking midfielder, Kroos can also play the central role or the wing. After signing a contract extension with the Bavarian giants that will keep him in Munich until 2015, it isn't all that likely that Munich could be convinced to part with their young midfield star.
I'll admit, I pulled this one straight out of thin air. I am enamored with Kroos' skill and potential and would like nothing more than to see him in an Arsenal kit next year. Do I think he can replace Cesc straight away? No I don't, at least not by himself. However, he is a young player very much in the Wenger mould and would fit in the squad very well.
Let me say now, I have sacrificed much livestock recently in the hopes that Arsene Wenger will find a way to keep Cesc Fabregas, but it seems like if he wants to go, then go he will. With the rumor mill buzzing around the clock, there are reports that say it's a done deal, and those that suggest Barcelona will not meet Wenger's asking price.
Whatever happens, it now seems clear that this will not be an idle offseason at the Emirates. There has been talk of an offseason fire sale, with no less than seven players poised to exit this summer—interestingly, the name of Fabregas does not appear on that list—and a slew of others set to replace them. I consider this to be somewhat dubious. The best way to spot a fraudulent set of rumors, is when they have a pile of deadwood being swapped for a handful of gems, and these reports typically have some of the least-liked names on Arsenal's roster making way for people like Leighton Baines and Phil Jones. I can't say it's not true, but I am wary of reports that seem to good to be true, as they usually are.
Clearly, many of the names on my list are staggering improbabilities to sign at the Emirates, but this is football, and anything can happen.
One thing I will promise, is the offseason will hardly be taking a backseat to the action on the pitch when it comes to excitement. Whether Fabregas stays or goes, the summer transfer window promises to be a very active one for the Gunners.