Because of the way football works, Cesc Fabregas’ performance for Chelsea this afternoon will be treated with suspicion. With two excellent games in succession, Fabregas has tentatively returned to the player he was eighteen months ago and his side are obviously richer for that improvement.
And Fabregas was excellent at The Emirates.
When he’s at this best, he plays the game at his own speed. His passing is accurate and he always possesses that same creativity, but when he feels comfortable he’s a joy to watch. There’s a silky composure to everything he does and that association has definitely reappeared over the last fortnight.
The caveat is, obviously, that he’s in part the beneficiary of improved performances all behind and in front of him and of Chelsea operating far more cohesively as a team, but don’t overlook his individual contribution. Specifically today, it takes a particularly cultured player to perform as he did when surrounded by such thick acrimony. In that opening half-an-hour and before the game had really settled into its rhythm, The Emirates was a frantic, hostile place - both in the stands and on the pitch - and yet Fabregas was his side’s smooth heartbeat.
Per Mertesacker’s red card was clearly the afternoon’s pivotal moment, but that didn’t guarantee Chelsea a win. Once Diego Costa had given the visitors a lead, they did a fairly good job of guarding the momentum and of slowing the match down at every opportunity - not in a cynical, rule-breaking way, but by retaining possession and exploiting the gaps that developed as Arsenal rabidly pressed the ball.
The most effective way to capitalise on a numerical advantage is to move the ball smartly and Fabregas helped to do that.
He also received possession extremely well, lazily stepping around tackles and drawing the occasional foul, and his general temperament throughout the game was admirable. During Chelsea’s mini-renaissance under Guus Hiddink, John Obi Mikel has - rightly - drawn a lot of praise for his protective work, but Fabregas has been essential to the pace at which his team have played and it’s not a coincidence that, with him in a richer vein of form, their forward players are starting to find far more space than they have at any other point in the season.
Arsenal had chances in this game and the did manage to exert some pressure, but never to the extent to which they should have done. Chelsea had to absorb some blows and Thibaut Courtois was fortunate not to pay more heavily for his two fumbles, but the game never resembled the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan: it was never Omaha Beach pressure.
There are other, perhaps more pertinent issues within this topic and, yes, Cesc Fabregas does have to take responsibility for his pre-New Year contribution, but there is now definitely some life to his game.