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.