The season is as good as over for Arsenal, as they can only really hope to play their last two games, and secure third place. It has been a bitterly disappointing end to the season for the club, and their fans too. There was so much promise up until the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham City at the end of February, but since then the wheels have come spectacularly off the tracks.
Many Arsenal fans are of the opinion that Cesc Fabregas has had a poor season for the club, and it might not be a bad idea to cash in on him this summer. He was a very obvious target for his hometown club last summer, and Barcelona did all they could to prise Arsenal's greatest asset away from them. The general consensus would seem to be that Barcelona failed to offer what Arsenal thought was the market value, and Arsene Wenger told Cesc he wouldn't be sold.
The player himself never actually asked for a move, but as Arsenal's captain he never catergorically stated that he wanted to remain at the club. To a lot of Arsenal fans that was seen as almost treason, and they questioned his commitment to the club. The only way Cesc could silence the doubters was to do his thing on the pitch for Arsenal, and prove exactly how much the club meant to him.
Unfortunately for Cesc he has had to play in tournaments for his country for the last three summers, and he has suffered a string of niggling injuries this season as a result. That has only added to the chorus of disapproval from the doubters, but if Cesc cannot play it's hardly his fault. He tried to come back from one of his injuries too soon, and he had an absolutely awful game in the away leg of Arsenal's Champions League tie with Barcelona as a result.
When Cesc plays he has been proven to be the most creative player in his position in any of the top five leagues in Europe, but he simply hasn't played enough games for Arsenal this season in my opinion. Arsenal's squad isn't strong enough to compensate for the loss of one of the very best players in the world, and Cesc has been sorely missed when he has been absent. In fact there are not many clubs who can compensate for the absence of their best player, and that is exactly what Cesc is.
The biggest question for me would be who could replace Cesc, if he was sold, and I cannot think of a single player I would prefer to have play his role for Arsenal. For me the problem lies in other areas of the Arsenal team and squad, as some of the players currently plying their trade at The Emirates aren't up to scratch. There is also the matter of the team not playing as a team when it comes to defending set pieces, and selling Cesc would not solve that problem.
Arsene Wenger needs to take the necessary steps to correct Arsenal's defending from set pieces, and if it means bringing new players or a defensive coach, then he just has to do it. Arsenal have conceded less goals from open play than any other team in the Premier League this season, and if they could sort themselves out from set pieces it would make all the difference to their chances of winning a trophy. It's a basic flaw which has been ignored for too long, and it has to be addressed this summer.
Cesc has expressed his love for Arsenal, and his desire to win trophies with them, but if he can't see the team progressing, why would he actually want to stay at the club. A player of his ability should expect to have players of similar ability in the team with him, and to have the very best coaching and tactics too. At the moment Arsenal have some very good players, and I think a fit Robin Van Persie is capable of playing at the same level as Cesc.
The problem arises when RVP is injured, as he often is, and the options to fall back on just aren't good enough. When Emmanuel Adebayor was sold a couple of seasons ago he was never replaced properly, and Arsenal have paid the price for not having a striker capable of playing alongside, or instead of him. Both Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh have had their moments in an Arsenal shirt, but you won't find many Arsenal fans who consider them a viable alternative to RVP.
Until the serious issues in Arsenal's squad, and with their tactics are addressed there is more of a chance of Cesc wanting to leave to pursue his ambitions elsewhere, than there is of Arsenal deciding to sell him. As long as he is Arsenal's captain, and giving everything he has when he plays, he deserves the full support of every single Arsenal fan. Players of his ability are few and far between, and watching Arsenal without him would be far worse than watching them with him.
After last night's victory for Man City over Tottenham there is a distinct possibility of Arsenal sliding to fourth in the table. If Arsenal take four points from their final two games they will almost certainly finish third, and qualify for the group stage of next season's Champions League. However, if they play like they did on Sunday against Stoke they will have to rely on City slipping up in their final two games.
The possibility of Arsenal facing an open draw in a playoff for the group stages next season is not one I want to contemplate, and it's a worrying thought considering where Arsenal were in the table only a few weeks ago. I still believe in the team's ability to beat Aston Villa on Sunday, and I think that will be enough to clinch third place, but it's difficult to believe that Arsenal have arrived at this point in their season. I know how I feel about it as I fan, but I genuinely don't know how the players feel about it.
The players earn an awful lot of money, and with some of them it looks like playing for the team is not the most important thing for them. If I was paid the vast sums of money some of those players I get, I cannot imagine that I would do anything but give everything I have for every single minute of every match I was privileged enough to play in. I suppose that's the difference between fans and the majority of players, as the club means more to the fans.
It's the manager's job to make sure every single player that takes the field for Arsenal knows what a privilege it is to play for such a great club, and if he cannot get that through to them he has only two choices. The first choice is to bring in players who will understand what a privilege it is, and the other choice he has is to consider his own ability or inability to get through to the players. I hope he can get through to the players, but after Sunday's performance the doubts are growing, and I never thought I would doubt him.
That's it for today.
Here's a look at Cesc busting a gut and injuring himself to score against Aston Villa last season.
See You Tomorrow.
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