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Fabregas affair will still cast a shadow

Being the wronged party in the transfer saga of the summer is not an unfamiliar position for Arsenal. In so fighting off the relentless Barcelona charm offensive in their hunt for Cesc Fabregas, Arsene Wenger can draw on his previous experiences with the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.

A look at that list will confirm that all six of those players eventually departed North London. But only Anelka, whose courtship of Real Madrid angered Wenger, was not allowed to leave on the Frenchman's terms. A lesson was learned in the summer of 1999 and the Fabregas affair will follow a similar pattern if the manager has anything to do with it.

The truth of these elongated courtships of players by the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid is that they usually get their man. And so, just as with Vieira and Henry, Arsenal fans will have to view their prized asset as if he was on some form of loan arrangement. In the case of the two erstwhile former captains, this long goodbye approach allowed them to accept the end of the affair in due course, much as Manchester United fans were able to accept the eventual departure of Cristiano Ronaldo when it became clear that his heart lay elsewhere. In his statement confirming his stay, Fabregas' pledge to be "100% focused" was complemented by a blown kiss to Barcelona and an unwritten invitation to bid more for him next time.

His clearly reluctant stay for another season allows Wenger to seek alternatives to his leader and best player while still being able to make use of him. Replacements may be sought in the transfer market or even from within. The likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey could face long waits to be given their head, with youth and critical injury respectively barring their paths, while Samir Nasri proved an admirable deputy during Fabregas' various absences last season.

But despite this, and now being used to such matters, this is by no means an ideal situation for Wenger. The undoubted distractions will continue until Fabregas either leaves or Barcelona give up the chase. The chance to push on when his team have gained more experience and rivals perhaps look vulnerable may have been lost. The stark facts are that Barca did not wish to pay the type of money that would turn Arsenal heads and, for the moment and notwithstanding the Catalan rota of cooing noises in his direction, Cesc stays and business will be continued in as usual a fashion as possible.

Gunners fans have long been impatient for their team to be replenished with expensive and proven imports but perhaps that, too, has been replaced by a new realism. The cost of a new stadium and Wenger's lack of desire to risk his bank on big-money buys has led to them now almost accepting his piecemeal signings of potential. The summer's two main recruits also meet the other requisite of being sourced from the French leagues.

Laurent Koscielny, while the more expensive at a reputed £9.7 million, is one of the centre backs Wenger requires to replace the treble departures of William Gallas, Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre, yet his pedigree looks somewhat threadbare even allowing for the label of late developer. He played just one season at Ligue 1 level for Lorient, after impressing in Ligue 2 with Tours. Marouane Chamakh is a more familiar target, having been coveted at Bordeaux by many Premier League clubs and having played in last season's Champions League.

In truth, however, both can be considered replacements for two of last summer's departures in Emmanuel Abebayor and Kolo Toure. Both of those left late in the transfer window of a year ago and neither was replaced in January. Chamakh's aerial power will be an added weapon to an attack in which it is hoped Robin Van Persie has recovered from the injury that wrecked his season and clearly hindered him during the World Cup. And with newly-wed Campbell taking the option of heading north to Newcastle rather than the offer of one more year at Arsenal, another defender is required, not least because it will stop Alex Song, excellent in midfield for much of last season, being called into duties further back.

Whatever the frustrations of this summer, and the inevitability of the Fabregas saga raging on, Wenger's confidence in his young team eventually bearing the fruit of silverware remains ever unshakeable. Last season saw his team place itself for a challenge alongside Chelsea and Manchester United. Indeed, there was much talk of Arsenal having the easier run-in to their rivals before all fell apart around the time of Champions League destruction at the hands of - that team again - Barcelona.

Now, and in a different fashion, the same club will remain hugely influential in the future of Arsenal. Wenger has been here before but he will not have been well disposed to another summer of unwanted temptation and speculation surrounding one of his stars. With Fabregas or without, it will be a relief to be able get on with the actual playing of football.


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