By Joe Meloni
Come May 2011, Arsenal’s last two victories – a pair of routs over Bolton Wanders in a Premiership match and Braga in a Champions League match – will be forgotten. They were ostensibly Arsenal’s notice to the favorites of each competition that the club from North London has its eye on trophies. In each match, the Gunners took a lead, withstood a rush and eventually ran away with the match – both ending with exclamation points from Carlos Vela. Lost in the barrage of goals was the performance of the Gunners 23-year-old captain.
Yes, Cesc Fabregas is only 23 years old. People forget this often. Blaming them is difficult when watching Fabregas play. Whether he’s patiently leading an Arsenal attack or positioning himself four steps ahead of an opposition rush, he almost never displays angst or nerves associated with young, gifted players.
“He has taken another dimension,” Wenger told ESPN Soccernet after the 6-0 win over Braga. “People forget he is 23, where other players start. Cesc has a fantastic influence. What is important is that he leads the team to winning.”
Pointing to a specific moment in the few months as Fabregas’ seminal display of maturity may be pointless given their abundance. On the low end of the spectrum is his calm, emphatic penalty taken against Braga that swifty sailed past Artur to initiate the Arsenal route. On the other end sits his cross-field pass through traffic to Andres Iniesta to set up the game-winning goal for Spain in its World Cup final win over Netherlands.
Despite sitting Fabregas in favor of Barcelona’s starting midfield throughout the midfield, Spain boss Vincent Del Bosque became a national hero because of Fabregas’ poise. Despite pressure from the Dutch defenders, the pressure of the his countrymen and the lone open man on the field standing about 30 yards away, the past hit its target and Spain became World Champions. Following the goal, the speculation started regarding Fabregas supposed desire to return to Barcelona – his hometown club. Whether or not his hope was as desperate as Gerard Pique wanted us all to believe or not is irrelevant because Wenger wasn’t selling.
Call Wenger selfish, but he made it clear last season that Fabregas’ role within his club was no longer that of promising young man. After stripping William Gallas of the armband, there remained just one true choice for the next leader of his club. Through four Premier League matches and its Champions League opener, the amount of evidence to support his decision has reached a laughable level. Even with Arsenal up 5-0 on Tuesday, Fabregas found a way to impress his coach.
“What I like is he gave the ball to Carlos Vela when he could have tried to score a third himself – that reflects the way we want to play the game and on a leader who does what the game wants, not being selfish,” Wenger told ESPN Soccernet.
Given his pedigree and his role within the Arsenal 11, unselfish play is hardly a shock. Still, with two goals already in the bag and a 5-0 lead, no one would have questioned Fabregas had he made an attempt on goal – even in a competition often decide by goal differential. It’s clear, even when the game’s well it hand, he cares about Arsenal’s success than he does his own.
Arsenal fans have taken notice too. Long tired of their trophyless seasons, Tuesday’s win capped a run of wins against inferior opponents that have sidetracked the Gunners from title chases in the past. Calling Arsenal an underdog in either competition is a misnomer, but the Gunners are hardly favorites with clubs such as Chelsea, Barcelona and Champions League title holder Inter Milan standing in their way. Still, there’s a confidence coming from Arsenal fans, and the consistently dominant performances from their club are responsible. Within the middle of those wins was their captain, there stands the 23-year-old Spaniard determined to carry Arsenal to glory – whether it’s his final season in North London or not. At this point, he’s only directing his club, but he may be directing a raucous cheer from the crowd at Emirates Stadium.
It’s become the cliched rallying cry of the underdog, and Arsenal fans were quick to adopt their own variation when Fabregas committed to the club for 2010. It can be seen on T-shirts of the faithful around the world. A motto expressing an underlying belief that they’re capable of being better than everyone thinks and surging through the spring with a trophy stamped on their season like an exclamation point.
“Cesc, we can.”
Joe Meloni is a writer and editor for TheSoccerGuysOnline.com. He can be reached at Joe.Meloni@TheSoccerGuysOnline.com.