Yeah, I said it.
I like Fabregas, but Samir Nasri could be just as good. Nasri has the vision, the technical ability, the range, the ability to beat defenders, and ego to spare. He’s got all the makings of a Fabregas without the desire to eventually move to Barcelona.
For all the justified conversations around young, English phenom Jack Wilshere’s creativity and pedigree, in Nasri, Arsenal already have a more mature, seasoned option available.
Watching Nasri closely can be mesmerizing. With all of the talk about England’s inability to produce technical players, Nasri stands as an example of what the English lack. He rarely loses the ball. It’s hard to think of a player in England with better close control or a player who consistently uses the ball as well as he does. Remember the goal Nasri scored in the Champions League against Porto? Fabregas’ touch is sublime, but the type of goal Nasri scored that night would have never come from the boots of Fabregas, let alone any English player not named Jack Wilshere (or the player formerly known as Joe Cole). Revisit the goal below if you need a reminder of Nasri’s brilliance.
Coming out of Olympique Marseille and the French youth system, Nasri was always a player with special qualities. But over the past few seasons, his moments of brilliance were often followed by disappearing acts or injury. Assessing Nasri’s potential has been contrained by his inconsistent performances and by Arsene Wenger’s insistence on playing him in several positions. But Nasri’s recent performances suggest that given the chance, he has the tools to dictate a game from anywhere on the field, whether that means making the decisive run or penetrating pass, or clinically finishing off a move.
That Nasri seems to be growing in stature in itself is impressive. Wenger has schizophrenically dispatched Nasri in central midfield (both in holding and advanced roles), outside midfield, withdrawn behind a forward, and playing on the wing of the front three in a 4-3-3. Constant position shifting can confuse players and hinder development. But Nasri seems to be the type of player who has been empowered by this experience. In fact, that’s exactly what we may be witnessing this season, the emergence of a complete Nasri, a Nasri finally putting all the pieces together. Where you place him on the field seems to matter less and less as time passes.
It may seem like I am proposing Nasri as a viable replacement for Fabregas. I am not. Rather, I am acknowledging Arsenal’s vigor this season when both Fabregas and Nasri are on the field, confident, healthy, and in form. Both players seem to thrive when feeling the weight of responsibility. Fabregas has always had it at Arsenal. Nasri, however, appears to be just getting the sense that he is, or can be, just as integral to Arsenal’s success as Fabregas. His recent play not only shows an increasing maturity, but also an evolution in confidence, which makes the thought of Fabregas’ potential departure that much more depressing.
Fabregas may dream of playing with Xavi and Iniesta in Barcelona, but perhaps he should consider the possibility of combining with a wonderfully dynamic Frenchman over the course of the next few years. Remember, for all of his years of experience, Fabregas is still only 23 years old, two months older than Nasri. The two players have the potential to terrorize defenders for years to come, creating a tandem that one day could rival Barcelona’s Xavi-Iniesta partnership.
But to realize this dream, Arsenal needs to pull in a trophy yesterday, not to appease the fans, but to keep Fabregas at the club, to show that the team is not stagnant and that this seemingly perpetual waiting game does have an end.
That may be why Wenger seems to be putting more into the Carling Cup, a tournament where he traditionally plays a mix of squad players and reserves. Wenger seems to know that the time is now for his team to come good.
My sense is that Arsenal’s success this year will depend on Nasri’s development as a creative leader alongside Fabregas. Keeping Fabregas in North London isn’t vital because he single-handedly carries the team. In fact, that’s the problem. No one player can will a team to trophies. Fabregas needs to stay at Arsenal because the team needs more than one creative hub to reach the next level. And with Fabregas and Nasri ready to produce (and Wilshere in the wings), Arsenal’s creative juices are ready to bear fruit.
I’m not in the business of predictions, but I’ll make this one. If Fabregas and Nasri continue their current form and end the season as Arsenal’s creative co-leaders, there will be a trophy in the cabinet. We already know what to expect from Fabregas. That means that the player to watch as the season progresses isn’t Fabregas, nor is it a young Wilshere who shouldn’t have to bear such responsibility in his first season as a serious first team player at Arsenal; it’s Nasri. As we get deeper into the season, teams will develop game plans to mark Fabregas out of the game, and that’s when we’ll learn whether Nasri and his teammates are capable of being what Wenger has been telling us for years they can be.