Now he finds himself the other side of a bitter London divide, Cesc Fabregas talks about the ‘special sensation’ he gets when he faces his old club
Cesc Fabregas has claimed Chelsea fans should not be worried as they face his former club Arsenal following a miserable start to the season that leaves them nearer the bottom of the table than the top.
The media pressure on Chelsea has been growing after they lost back-to-back games in the Premier League for the first time under Jose Mourinho, first a rare home defeat to Crystal Palace and then a 3-1 defeat at Everton last weekend.
They have since seen off Maccabi 4-0 in a Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge, but sitting 11 points behind leaders Manchester City there are plenty of critics willing to suggest the champions have already thrown away their chances of retaining their title.
The bare facts are Chelsea have already lost as many times in five matches – three – as they did in 38 last year when they finished eight points clear of Manchester City at the top of the table. You can also factor in a poor performance at Wembley when they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield, but Fabregas refuses to consider using the term ‘crisis’ as those two teams meet again today.
“I don’t believe our fans need to be worried – and I don’t believe they are,” he said.
“Chelsea is Chelsea. We have an identity and a style of play and if we stick to that then success will come.
“The Premier League season is very long, there are many matches to come and everything is still possible. But we need to be more focused in each match from now on.”
Nobody is denying, of course, that Chelsea’s opening to the campaign is either respectable or acceptable; they sit 17th in the table (they had 13 points and were top at this time last year) and with only three goals scored (they had a remarkable 16 after five games last campaign).
“Look, the opening to the Premier League was not good, we all know that,” said Fabregas.
“There are things we need to improve, like the key pass to help us score goals. If we do that then the victories will come. It’s the basics of football - goals are points in the table. But we’ll get there.”
It is interesting to see that Fabregas picks out goals scored as the chief problem for Chelsea rather than goals conceded – the seven that have ended up in the Blues’ net so far this campaign have led to criticism of the back four from television pundits, seen Mourinho haul off captain John Terry at half-time at Manchester City - experimenting instead with Kurt Zouma alongside Gary Cahill – and led to Branislav Ivanovic being dropped.
Perhaps the goals scored against Maccabi – in particular a much-needed spectacular strike from Diego Costa, set up by Fabregas – will change that. But what the midfielder, who also scored his first goal of the season in midweek, doesn’t reference is that his own form has also been under the microscope.
In the league he has looked a pale shadow of his former self so far – and the formerly reliable Nemanja Matic has also struggled alongside him.
It will be interesting to see, then, how Fabregas fares against former club Arsenal – themselves rocked by a midweek Champions League defeat in Zagreb – because recent history shows he has struggled against the Gunners in matches for his latest club. Whether that is down to nerves, over-familiarity or whether he has been seriously affected by the vitriol hurled at him by some of the Arsenal fans who used to worship him is hard to tell; but the Spaniard is preparing himself for another test.
“I enjoyed many big years at Arsenal and I have lots of happy memories about the club. But I am a professional footballer and now I fight for Chelsea. Normally I always feel a special sensation when I play against the Gunners but I promise you it passes in a few minutes and I just think about winning the game.”
It is so long since Fabregas pulled on an Arsenal shirt – he left the Emirates to join Barcelona in 2011 – that perhaps it is stretching a point to suggest he would have split loyalties so many years later; and if you believe the headlines, then he has barely spoken to former mentor Arsene Wenger since it was made plain Arsenal did not want to re-sign him from Barca last year.
However, there does remain enough respect for the midfielder, who signed for Arsenal aged 16, made his debut at 17 and was captain by the age of 21, to insist he will never criticise his former manager.
He said: “I will never say anything bad about Arsene Wenger, ever. He is an excellent coach and incredible in the way he works with young players. But I am a Chelsea player now, that’s all.
“For me, Arsenal always is a candidate to win the title and this year is no different. This campaign they have had a poor start at home but are starting to find their feet, so let’s see.
“As I said before it’s very early in the season still. It’s clear that Manchester City is very strong at the moment, but no-one can ignore the chances of Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal or ourselves. It’s the same candidates as usual and so we have to continue.
“My dream at the start of the season was to win the Premier League and Champions League with Chelsea - and with Spain I want to play at Euro 2016 and compete for the title. I have to keep dreaming.”
We are all entitled to dream. But if Chelsea are to make those dreams come true they have an awful lot of work to do – and defeat against Arsenal today would make it almost impossible.
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