The Barclays Premier League simply wasn’t ready for a 22-year-old Cesc Fabregas and the sheer wizardry he produced for Arsenal every week in 2009-10.
Arsene Wenger’s silky Spaniard felt like a veteran of England’s top flight at this point, having arrived aged just 16 all the way back in 2003.
What we absolutely cannot do, though, is gloss over his absolutely absurd 2009-10 campaign, where he took the league by storm with an absurd catalogue of goals and assists, donning the captain’s armband for the Gunners while most people his age were avoiding a life of full-time work after completing university.
Cesc had no time for that, though. Not in 2009-10. Arsenal’s only Golden Boy winner to date was too busy breaking ankles, spinning the old guard into retirement and crafting a Hall of Fame-level campaign that is yet to be topped by a young midfielder in the Premier League.
In the seasons prior, we’d seen enough to know that the Spaniard was destined to be a special footballer. Back-to-back Player of the Season awards, a debut in Wenger’s Arsenal side at 16, a key piece of the puzzle in their run to the Champions League final.
But even with all that ticked off, it’s still hard to believe just how complete he looked at just 22 years old, and how it manifested itself into one of the best campaigns for a midfielder, potentially ever.
Thirty-six games, 19 goals, 19 assists.
The tone was set early doors, with the 22-year-old running riot in the Gunners’ Premier League opener against Everton. Armband on, two goals and two assists in 72 minutes. 6-1 win. Crikey.
Arsenal found themselves on the losing side of a 2-1 scoreline three games into the league season against Manchester United, and you can only wonder ‘what if?’ with Fabregas missing that game.
We could go on forever. When he wasn’t slipping through the likes of Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and a blossoming Theo Walcott, he was simply doing it himself. He’d become the glue of Wenger’s side, who would somehow finish nine points behind league winners Chelsea in third place that season.
Several flashes of brilliance correctly had you thinking ‘Are Arsenal back?’ and that was down to the sheer artistry of the young man from Catalonia, poached from La Masia by one of football’s greatest minds. You had to believe that they were back. They had it all.
Enough waxing lyrical, though. You want more season highlights. You need more season highlights. We all do, because they’re sublime.
A minute or so of him dictating play like a veteran against Burnley, linking up with Nasri and Tomas Rosicky before putting the gloss on a fine passage himself. If there was ever a goal that summed up his season, it was that one.
Awareness, technical ability, movement, intelligence, confidence, aura. Yeah, that was him.
Random Arsenal Goal of the Day:
— TheArsenal1913 (@TheArsenal1913) October 26, 2022
Fabregas notched four assists and a goal in one game at home to Blackburn. Five goal contributions in one game. Ridiculous. Give them a chance at least, Cesc.
Other highlights include a goal in a derby win over Tottenham. A fantastic, weaving solo strike against Bolton Wanderers. Six goal contributions in the Champions League including a brace in front of a frenzied crowd at the Emirates against AZ Alkmaar. How does it get any better than this?
With a crucial goal at home against none other than Barcelona, of course. Against the club he ought to have been producing all this wizardry for, Fabregas secured Arsenal a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final. Almost perfect. Almost.
It’s at this point we have to go back to the fateful phrase of ‘what if?’ that crept in when he missed the game against United in August. Because what if that penalty he tucked away against his former employers in the quarter-final didn’t result in him picking up a fracture in his leg, ending his season?
On this day 2010 Cesc Fabregas broke his leg but still managed to score a penalty
— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) March 31, 2020
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and with the Gunners losing twice against both Chelsea and United earlier on in the season the writing was perhaps already on the wall.
But Fabregas’ fracture, combined with injuries to hotshot Andrey Arshavin and veteran defender William Gallas derailed what had been a promising season up until its collapse in April.
The Gunners would lose at Camp Nou and won just two of their final six Premier League fixtures that they had to play without their imperious Spanish lynchpin. His absence hit hard.
Fabregas would get a much-deserved moment in the sun before the 2009-10 season was truly over, recovering in time to play a part in Spain’s 2010 World Cup win, assisting the goal to future Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta that would crown them champions. Poetic.
For Arsenal, the cat was now well and truly out of the bag. The world had just been put on watch by this handsome young devil strutting his stuff and making defenders look silly in the Premier League.
The Gunners had failed to translate his heroics into any silverware, but Fabregas had unlocked new levels, if not by scoring against his former employers, but by being the young gun in Spain’s totally dominant World Cup campaign. There was no going back.
By Mitchell Wilks