Arsene Wenger’s long tenure at Arsenal started and ended at two different ends of the spectrum.
The early days were by no means plain sailing, particularly as he was a fairly unknown name that had to be bought out from J-League outfit Nagoya Grampus Eight, but he clinched the league and cup double in his first full campaign at the helm.
One Premier League and two FA Cups later, he guided the Gunners to an unbeaten season in 2003/04 – the first and only team to do it in the modern era, still to this day.
Another FA Cup followed the season after but then a nine-year drought ensued and in that time, the French veteran may have made one of his biggest-ever mistakes in charge of the north London giants.
During the Invincible season, Wenger handed a debut to Cesc Fabregas, who became the club’s youngest-ever player at 16 years and 177 days, featuring against Rotherham United in the League Cup.
Was Wenger right to sell Fabregas in 2011?
That was something that was unheard of back then and would only put a target on the Frenchman’s back, should it go wrong. But it didn’t. The young Spanish maestro would go on to become the club captain and amass over 300 appearances in all competitions.
There were some remarkable seasons from Fabregas, ranging from his 20 assists in 2007/08 to his 30 total goal contributions from only 27 appearances in 2009/10.
A few seasons later, the Gunners rejected a bid from FC Barcelona for their talismanic midfielder, thought to be in the region of €35m (£31.2m). A pretty hefty amount in those days.
Barca’s then vice-president Rafael Yuste warned that they “won’t stop” in the attempts to sign him and one summer later, in August 2011, it all came to fruition as Fabregas made the switch to the Nou Camp for around £35m with £25.4m of that coming upfront.
In the five years prior to his departure, the Spain international was one of the most creative players in the entire world, having created 466 chances, which was more than what even Andrea Iniesta (214) and Xavi (455) had managed in the same timeframe for the Blaugrana.
Fabregas’ total of 57 goals and 97 assists for Arsenal has been sorely missed ever since as they are yet to win the Premier League again and only three times in the 11 years since have the Gunners finished third or better.
Perhaps it comes as little surprise to have seen the former captain lauded as a “driving creative force” and a “difference-maker” in the past.
If the 5 foot 10 magician stayed for a few more years, perhaps Wenger could have clinched another title or two but instead, the now 35-year-old would go on to play for arch-rivals Chelsea, where he would win the Premier League two more times, only compounding the Gunners’ woes.
Fabregas’ departure was easily one of – if not the – biggest failure of the Frenchman’s tumultuous 22-year reign.
AND in other news, Arteta could unearth the new Ian Wright in Arsenal’s £7m-rated “goalscoring sensation”…