12 June 2014

Cesc, I'm sorry for this whole sordid saga.

> So the unthinkable has come to pass. True, it's not quite the direct betrayal of seeing van Persie cross over to Man U, but seeing Cesc end up at Chelsea by way of Barcelona hurts on a different level. Over the next few days, not to mention during the upcoming season, we're going to wrestle with some bitter feelings—a sense of betrayal, of despair, of jealousy—and these may eventually subside somewhat, but they'll never cease. To lose such a talismanic player, not once, but twice, is almost too much to bear. The pain it's inspired is going to linger for some time. In in the interim, there will be some harsh words hurled at the man, and, on behalf of as many Gooners as I dare claim to speak for: Cesc, I'm sorry.

He's going to be called a Judas. Some will burn jerseys; others will change screen-savers. A feeling of hatred and loss will pervade it all, but such feelings will be, by and large, misplaced. We had our chance to reclaim a prodigal son, even if he might be superfluous to our needs, and we waved him on as casually as if we were waiting for a nicer taxi.

There's more to it than that, of course. Caught in a tug of war between two remorseless, soulless teams, Fàbregas at last forsook the sentimental ideals and went where the cold, hard cash would flow. Baited and bullied away from Arsenal, he ended up at Barcelona, so completely superfluous to their needs that he couldn't find time on the pitch, at least not at his preferred position. Bouncing around from position to position, his form struggled so much that Barça's fans, displaying all of the patience and sophistication of three-year olds, booed him. No wonder he wanted to leave. We step in, and all the talk is of Arsène's genius master-stroke, inserting not one but two clauses that would all but guarantee that we could have him back, perhaps with Barça losing money in the process. Instead, we apparently turned our noses up at the opportunity. So now he's at Chelsea. Are we really going to accuse them of stealing him away? Can we blame him for wanting to leave? It's not as if he turned his back on us or refused to return.

In a way, I'm relieved at how this has turned out. It once again gives the lie to the notion that players play for anything but themselves, not when they can earn six-figure weekly salaries. Yes, once a season, maybe twice, he might have to face the awkwardness of returning to the Emirates, but there are still 37 other Prem matches for him and a raft of league cup and FA Cup matches to play in front of the latest batch of fans who will chant his name and buy jerseys with his name on the back. Yes, we'll have to endure a boatload of gloating from Chelsea fans, but that doesn't change what's going on around our squad.

First and foremost, I worry about what this ordeal suggest about Arsène. He may have decided that we don't need Fàbregas, that Fàbregas would hinder the development of players like Ramsey, Wilshere, or Ox, and he might have a point there. However, in so thinking, Arsène seems to have underestimated how much Fàbregas means to Gooners—and I refer to more than mushy sentimentality when I say so. Yes, Fàbregas represented one of the last meaningful links to a glorious period in the club's history, but, dammit, he's still one of the best midfielders in the world. Clamoring for him to come back to Arsenal wasn't just pinheaded nostalgia; it also stemmed from an understanding that he could and more than likely would launch us toward the top of the Prem. We could have had him for what amounts to pocket-change for a player of his caliber, and we passed. Arsène passed. It's a risky game he's playing, toying with our hopes to this extreme, raising up our hopes with those clauses only to dash against the rocks.

I'll say this: this had better be Arsène's way of clearing the decks before bringing in some major, major signings. Forget Vela and Remy and Schneiderlin. Nice players, all, and I'm sure they'd be useful. No. After so blithely dangling the return of Fàbregas in front of us, only to let him slip through our fingers to Chelsea—Chelsea, FFS!—Arsène had better have some major unveilings to prove to us that this all part of a master-plan. Yes, we have Özil, but even he can't quite heal the hurt that many of us feel. Coming on the heels of a season in which we finally slayed a trophy-drought, the optimism was finally starting to feel justified, and the idea that Fàbregas might return to help build on that foundation was, well, too much to ask for. We Arsène is going to have to prove to his critics, who have probably multiplied in number and deepened in intensity that, yes, he knows what he's doing. At this point, it's hard to feel like he does. A hated and well-heeled rival has just strengthened its squad in a manner so easy to stop it boggles the mind that he let it happen. It beggars belief. I want to believe that Arsène knows what he's doing, but it's hard to resist the suspicion that this is just another example of a stubborn, obstinate commitment to his own persnickety policies.

Fàbregas is no traitor. He went home, they treated him like trash, and he could have come back to Arsenal.  Arsène said no, and so it is up to Arsène to set things right. There had better be a slew of signings, each more jaw-dropping than the last. Let's start with Diego Costa. Start. If we don't see several new Gunners and soon, it won't be Fàbregas's jersey we're burning.

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