For several seasons Cesc Fabregas was far and away my favourite Premier League player, not just for his supreme footballing ability and the grace with which he went about his business, but also for the way he conducted himself as a professional on the field and as a true gentleman off it.
Being made captain of one of the biggest clubs in the country at such a young age could easily have gone to his head, or perhaps affected his performances as the playmaker and pass master of an Arsenal team which depended on him like an orchestra looks up to its conductor. Not a chance.
The 26-year-old arrived in North London as a teenager in 2003 and spent eight years with the Gunners before returning to Catalonia and his boyhood club Barcelona for an initial £25.5m after a protracted transfer saga; his biggest regret that he left Arsenal without winning a trophy with them.
There have been no shortage of trophy successes with Barca and Fabregas is proud to have fulfilled another of his boyhood ambitions, but Fabregas maintains that Arsenal is ‘still in my heart’ and has strongly hinted at a return to the Emirates either as a player or in a coaching capacity ‘one day’.
As a massive Fabregas fan during his time with the Gunners I was bitterly disappointed, like every Arsenal fan, when the lure of his first love proved too strong. A bit like the departure of Thierry Henry and retirement of Dennis Bergkamp, fans wondered how they would ever replace him.
It didn’t happen overnight, of course, but now in Santi Cazorla the Gunners have an educated, elegant playmaker in the Fabregas mould who links everything beautifully together; the perfect midfield foil for Ozil, Whilshere, Ramsey and Co.
Cazorla has become one of the best and most consistent Premier League players after impressing in his first season in England and according to one stat, the Arsenal man has the most assists for the amount of time he has been in the league for.
“That tells you a lot about him,” says Arsene Wenger. “I like that in footballers, I like the guys who can make others happy and he is one of them. Football is natural for Santi and it is a joy to watch him for all of us. He is very happy on the pitch and that is why he can absorb these games.
“He is the type of player who comes into the dressing room, puts on his kit and goes out and plays. There is no strapping, no special medical preparation, he is just born to play football. He does that remarkably well.”
All of which brings me to the initial question – why do Arsenal need Fabregas when they have Cazorla?