ARSENAL legend Paul Merson believes it is inevitable that Cesc Fabregas will return to Barcelona this summer and insists the captain deserves credit for being honest with the club about his desire to move.
But he warns the Gunners squad needs a complete overhaul during the close season and fears that the departure of Fabregas could trigger an exodus of Arsene Wenger’s other stars, headed by striker Robin van Persie.
Wenger is no stranger to having his best players coveted by Europe’s most powerful outfits, and saw previous captains Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira move on after extended flirtations with Continental superpowers.
Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Alex Hleb also fled to Spain and Merson, who started his career at Arsenal and spent more than a decade at the club, believes the Frenchman will not stand in the young midfielder’s way if he has set his heart on leaving.
“I’d be shocked if he didn’t go,” he told City A.M. “Looking through the history of Wenger, everyone who has wanted to leave has been allowed to leave. I think it would be very unfair if he did stand in his way, not having done it with the others. He’s not let anybody down. I think Arsene will look at Henry and Vieira. The more Henry stayed the more uncomfortable it got.
“You have to admire Fabregas for saying ‘Bang, I want to leave’. He could easily have gone to the World Cup and told his agent to call Arsenal and tell them he wasn’t coming back. Now at least they’ve got six weeks to get a replacement.”
Although Merson (left, in his playing days) is resigned to the Spaniard’s departure, he insists Arsenal should not let the playmaker go for less than £40m, so that Wenger can perform major surgery on his squad.
“If they’re not getting £40m for him then they can’t sell him, surely,” he added. “They need to go through the spine and almost start again from scratch, which is worrying.
“They need a goalkeeper, a centre-half, a central midfielder and a centre forward to help Van Persie.
“They need someone who’ll replace Fabregas straight away and, although I don’t think it will happen, I’d break the bank for Steven Gerrard. I’d also buy David James for one year.
“I’m a massive fan of Van Persie – I think he’s top five in the world. If he has a good World Cup I don’t see him going back to Arsenal.”
Paul Merson is promoting lastminute.com’s summer kick off campaign. Visit www.lastminute.com/worldcup for more information.
Barca keen to clinch deal but are yet to make bid
BARCELONA have declared their desire to tie up a deal for Cesc Fabregas “as soon as possible”, but accept Arsenal hold the trump card in the battle for the midfielder.
It is understood the Gunners had last night still not received any formal offer from the Spanish champions for the 23-year-old. A bid looks imminent, although Barca’s apparent £30m valuation is thought to be some way short of the amount Arsenal would demand to part with their skipper.
“It’s great that he wants to come here and I think that one day Cesc will have to come to Barca. But what matters is Arsenal and what their decision is,” said Txiki Begiristain, Barca’s sporting director. “I don’t know when but I have the impression that he’ll enjoy it very much. I wish it was as soon as possible. But we have to respect Arsenal’s wishes and his contract.”
Barcelona have agreed a £34m fee with Valencia for David Villa and the Spain striker, 28, is expected to complete his move today.