23 May 2014

Bring back Cesc—as a striker!

The worm has turned. It is Arsenal that have silverware in hand, and Barcelona that have gone begging. As such, it is only natural that the exodus of Gunners to Camp Nou reverse. Instead seeing the departures of Hleb and Overmars, Petit and Song and Van Bronckhorst, Henry and Fàbregas, we could see the return of a son so prodigal that many of us seem willing to any price, financial or strategic, to bring him back. Do we need him? After all, we have a glut of creative, attack-minded midfielders, and our most-pressing need is at striker. Then again, Fàbregas has shown that he has the chops to lead the line. Why not?

Of course, the first question comes down to finances. Reports suggest that Man U is preparing a bid for£30m, and the first issue that comes to mind is whether we should worry. Man U, with Mata and Fàbregas in the midfield, could pose a threat to those hoping to qualify for Europa League competition a year from now. More seriously, even if it's defense that is Man U's most-pressing need, this would suggest a massive upgrade at Old Trafford, and we can ill-afford to see both Manchesters improve at our expense (the other being Man City, should their pursuit of Sagna succeed). 

If rumors are to be believed, we have a right of first-refusal should Barça try to sell Fàbregas, and it's been said that he'd only return to the Prem if it was with Arsenal. I haven't seen Fàbregas's contract, so I would like to see some kind of confirmation that the clause exists. If we can pip Man U and bring Cesc back for £25m (as is reported), we'd be fools not to. While such a move wouldn't directly address our most pressing need, it would carry with it enormous emotional benefits, not to mention a fair few strategic ones. Could you have said two years ago that in 2014, two of the world's best creative midfielders would be playing for Arsenal? With Özil and Fàbregas roaming the midfield, we might have the most-lethal key-pass creators in the world. They'd be slicing defenses open with deft touches and perfectly weighted passes until the cows come home. The question then becomes, who'd be there to finish?

I'm not sure we can count on the idea that Giroud or Sanogo would blossom into the kind of strikers we need just because they'd be getting such exquisite service. For better or for worse, our current attack consists of Giroud offering himself as a target for forward-balls as he works to occupy defenders and offer second-balls and lay-offs to midfielders who run off his shoulders. Without a big, workhorse up-top, what would we be left with? A bunch of tippy-tappy ballerina types bereft of the brawn we'd need to break down the more-stubborn defenses, not to mention the more-Stoke-ish.

However, Fàbregas has shown that he can be a target-man, even if he lacks the size or strength that Giroud offers. The trade-off, however, seems clear: instead of one focal point with three or four players buzzing around it, we could see a more-amorphous attack, an amoeba, if you will. With Fàbregas deployed as a conventional striker, he'd have the freedom to roam and prowl as the rhythm of the match and his own sense of opportunity suggest. He's played striker for Barcelona and for Spain, and even if he's done so against some of La Liga's lesser lights, there's enough there to inspire more than hope, maybe even confidence.

With Cazorla, Fàbregas, Ramsey, Walcott, Özil, Ox, and Wilshere, Arsenal could pour forward, surging through the spaces between lines, sluicing through those spaces with the ball dancing and floating above, around and through befuddled defenders, eviscerating them with the sheer relentlessness of a fluid passing attack that has no focal point, with players disappearing from their putative positions in order to pop up unexpectedly elsewhere.

As breath-taking as it might be to imagine, it's difficult to believe that it would come to pass. Even with the current uncertainty over at Camp Nou, I don't see them parting with Fàbregas, not with other aging midfielders in the roster, trouble with UEFA over other transfer imbroglios, and the idea that they'd have to sell Fàbregas at less than his market-value—or share the spoils with us 50-50, if the rumored clauses do exist. Then again, he's been to Barcelona and won the silverware that he sought. He played for Pep. Maybe it is time he comes back to an ascendant Arsenal...

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