01 May 2013

If Fàbregas is available, should we buy him back?

I'd love to see him back, first off. Let's just get that out of the way. However, I don't think that getting him back is our first priority. If there's one area that has been a strength for us all year, it's been midfield. Our defense has definitely gotten stronger, but it's had its ups and downs; we have all watched the keeper situation wobble along, and I won't even mention offense because there's so little of it to discuss. I'd therefore prefer to see us target a striker who can generate more offense, put more shots on target, and score with greater frequency. I think Giroud will emerge next year with more of these qualities than he's shown this year, but that still seems like our #1 need. Once we've secured someone there, we can perhaps turn our attention to Cesc.

First, the financials. As reported at JustArsenal, Fàbregas's deal with Barcelona gives us the option to buy Fàbregas first should Barcelona choose to sell him. If we refuse, we get half of what he sells for on the open marker. We'd therefore be Barcelona's first option if they do sell. Having purchased him for £35million, Barcelona has arguably felt pressure to keep him on the field even if it distorts their preferred line-up and attacking options. Indeed, Fàbregas has seen time all over the midfield and even as a forward as they seek creative ways to keep on the field to (a) justify their investment, (b) keep him happy, and (c) keep up his market value in case selling becomes necessary. He has done pretty well, but it hasn't been the fairytale homecoming many had envisioned.  Yes, he has 10 goals and 10 assists, but four goals and three assists have come from the forward position, not a huge shift from his midfield role, but enough to add a small asterisk.

Stats courtesy of whoscored.com.
The chart you see compares Fàbregas's stats to those of Santi Cazorla, the man brought in to replace him and the one most likely to lose his starting spot should Fàbregas return. I was amazed to see that Cazorla outscores him on whoscored.com's metrics, not that Fàbregas is some kind of slouch. How much of an upgrade from Cazorla would he be? It's not an apples-to-apples comparison, of course, but they do occupy the same position on the pitch. As wonderful as it could be to have him back, I don't think that his return, by itself, would not see us surge to the top of the Prem next year.

Then again, what if we killed two birds with one stone? Fàbregas has done well from the center-forward position, tallying four goals and three assists in six appearances there (thanks again to whoscored.com). It's an admittedly small sample-size and one from which it's hard to extrapolate, even more so when we see that three goals and an assist came against woeful Mallorca (last place in La Liga, -31 GD), one goal came against Levante (13th, -17 GD), and two assists came against Getafe (9th place, -10 GD). He's played there for Spain's national team as well and had this to say about the striker role:
I like scoring goals, and I hope it continues for a long time. It's a position I've played in a lot with Barcelona. I'm happy there. I hope I can keep scoring goals...I am still learning.
Even if he is happy in that role, it remains to be seen if he could become the striker that we need, especially against the teams we strive to reel in and overtake. It's one thing for him to score against La Liga's equivalent of QPR or Sunderland; it's quite another to pull it off against Man City or Chelsea. Therefore, I'd maintain that an out-an-out striker is still the higher priority.

In one regard, his return to Barcelona has reaped him one benefit; he's won a league championship, and we'll find out soon whether Barcelona can overcome its 4-0 deficit against Bayern to advance to the final against Dortmund (if it does turn out as a Dortmund-Barça final, I hope do one better than we did. Go, Arsenal jr.!) If he does return, would his experience in winning translate to Arsenal? One can hope, but I do wonder how we'd make room in the midfield. With Arteta and Ramsey in the defensive midfield, would Cazorla and Wilshere move wide to give the middle to Fàbregas? Would Fàbregas reassume the captain's role? These would be delicious problems to have, a nice improvement over some of the dilemmas we've had to wrestle with lately.

I usually don't welcome back those who leave, but I do think the manner of Fàbregas's departure differs considerably from those of Nasri, van Persie, and others. He was more of a prodigal son returning home than a mercenary seeking greener pastures. As long as it doesn't become a back-and-forth saga, I'd welcome the lad back with open arms. Just don't view it as a panacea. We still need to find another striking option even if Giroud and others benefit from Fàbregas's contributions. As long as his return isn't billed as the triumphant return of the all-conquering hero, and isn't the only move we make over the summer, by all means, bring him back.