Following his ill-advised comments in the press last week, William Gallas was relieved of his duties as Arsenal club captain as Arsene Wenger moved swiftly to quell the storm and resolve the situation. In his place, Cesc Fabregas was appointed as the new permanent choice for skipper. It was a selection that many supporters wanted to see and the Spaniard was the leading contender of what could have only been a minimal short-list of candidates for the job.
It will be interesting to see how Fabregas takes to the role. He is a young man aged only 21 but he is already vastly experienced in the worlds of English, European and international football. There is a concern that the responsibility of captaincy may distract him from his key role within the team. Certainly, one suspected that having to worry about other players detracted from Thierry Henry's individual performance during his tenure leading the team. But, different players will handle situations in their own way and this could be an appointment that only makes Cesc's stature and confidence even greater - only time will tell.
One thing that seems very clear is that Fabregas appears to be far more popular with his team-mates than Gallas ever was. Though the Frenchman is also a vastly experienced player, he seemed to lack the personality and charisma to inspire those around him. Over the past few years we have watched Cesc develop from a boy into a man and achieve superstar status in world football. He appears to have taken all this in his stride. In interviews, he comes across as relaxed and mature. This translates to his demeanour on the pitch too but he also has a fiery side within him and he has already proved himself a player who exerts a massive influence over virtually every game he plays. His season with Arsenal last year saw him take a huge stride forward as he became the team's lynchpin, weighed in with plenty of goals and came so close to inspiring a title win. Any disappointment at missing out on a trophy with his club was soon remedied when he played a pivotal role in Spain's Euro 2008 success.
The young Spaniard certainly has his work cut out in taking on the role of Arsenal's captain at the moment. The team is low on confidence, decimated with injuries and, individually, Fabregas himself has been slow to find his form this term. Prior to the announcement of his appointment he found himself suspended for the Gunners visit to Manchester City last Saturday. Arsenal's fifth defeat of the season was about as bad as it could get. Lacking in any sort of drive or belief they succumbed to City all too easily and were fortunate not to be on the end of a more severe beating.
As he lead the team out for last night's Champions League fixture, Cesc must have been feeling a combination of pride and trepidation. A defeat would have seriously jeopardised the Gunner's chances of progressing to the knockout phase and would hardly have set the team up to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. It would have also meant three defeats in a row which many would consider "a crisis" for a team of Arsenal's standing.
As it was, the Gunners dominated a Kiev side that played for a draw from the outset with the hope of stealing something on the break. Despite Arsenal's territorial supremacy, it was a lacklustre display and chances were few and far between. The visitors almost achieved their objective with a good chance in each half. The post denied them in the first period and a vital save from Manuel Almunia towards the end of the match ensured a clean sheet. The match was secured in the 87th minute when Fabregas threaded a pass through to substitute Nicklas Bendtner who controlled the ball, held off the attentions of a Kiev defender and then fired home. It was a fine finish from the young Dane who has been struggling for form in recent weeks. Hopefully, scoring last night's winner will help restore any confidence that he may have lost.
So, Cesc Fabregas's first match as captain ended happily with a victory that secures Arsenal's passage to the next phase of the Champions League. It was an encouraging start by the young man as he cajoled his team-mates and led by example throughout. A much stiffer test awaits on Sunday though when the team travel to Chelsea for the Premier League clash at Stamford Bridge. As yet it is not clear how many injured players will be back for this match, but whoever is selected will need to be at the top of their game in order to come away with some sort of result. Every defeat so far this season has brought promises of lessons learned and corners turned. So far, talk has been cheap.
On Sunday, the players need to prove they really have the appetite and fight to make something of their season after the past few weeks of bad press, in-fighting and poor results.
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