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Friday, September 17, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: September 23, 4:35 PM UK
Fantastic Fabregas a joy to watch for Gunners

Kevin Keegan

ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.

• Sunderland v Arsenal preview

If you said to me you can watch one footballer playing in the Premier League, Cesc Fabregas would be top of my list, along with Steven Gerrard. From a selfish point of view I am glad he stayed at Arsenal despite Barcelona's interest. English football hasn't really got any players like him.

There is no doubt that Fabregas wanted to leave Arsenal this summer - he is from Spain, all his friends are there and his World Cup colleagues are there. But he is a sensible lad and realised it wasn't going to happen and got on with it. The thing about Cesc Fabregas is that he is a great pro. He isn't going to go and sulk , he is going to go and play, knowing one day that if he wants to go back to Spain, he can make that happen.

The minute that transfer deadline day passes, I think any player with common sense - and Fabregas has loads of it - even if they were thinking about spitting the dummy out, they would be crazy to do so. You put your head down, score goals like he is doing and influence games like he is doing. It doesn't surprise me how he has performed. It would be a totally different situation if he was in the last two years of his contract, because this summer Arsenal had all the aces.

For people who love football, Arsenal's performance against Braga on Thursday was the perfect way to play, and Fabregas was at the heart of everything. We have seen them do it many times before in the Premier League, and while people might look at Braga and say 'Well, they aren't the best in the world' they still qualified from the Portuguese league, which is quite a strong competition. But Arsenal tore them apart, and played football like people want it to be played.

Arsenal have started the season fantastically, but they have done that before and not won anything. The Sunderland game will be a completely different test and it is somewhere they got beaten last season. It is fair to say Arsenal are one of the three or four teams that can win the title and at the moment, along with Chelsea, are probably playing the best football. Every time I have been to play an Arsenal team under Arsene Wenger you know one thing: if you are able to get over 40% of the possession in the match, whether home or away, you are doing better than most teams. But it is very early in the season and it will be a lot more impressive if they go to Sunderland and play like that.

The issue of how teams approach games against Arsenal has been in the news this week, but no manager worth his salt, apart from perhaps if you are at Manchester United, Chelsea or a few other teams, would go and say 'okay let's get the ball down, and we are going to do to Arsenal what they do to other teams'. You won't win. They are better than anyone else in England at getting the ball down and passing it to death. If you try and take them on at their own game, it wouldn't be right tactically, it would be foolish to think you can out pass Arsenal. That is not to say you should kick them off the park, but physically keep it tight, frustrate them and try and hurt them from set-pieces. That is pretty standard practice for teams playing away at Arsenal.

Sam Allardyce has been forthright with his opinions about Arsene Wenger, but if he is honest, he would probably love to play like Arsenal but he doesn't have the players. I can understand what Sam is saying and I understand what Arsene Wenger is saying - they are both looking at it from their own point of view. Arsenal would love everyone to stand back and let them play, like Braga did. They win 6-0 and Arsene is happy, but a result like that might get someone like Sam the sack if he went to Arsenal and lost 6-0. You can't blame managers for realising they can't beat them at football.

Sunderland will be a real challenge. When they played at Roker Park, I went there as Newcastle manager so obviously it was always intimidating because it was a local derby and it was always full. I think at the Stadium of Light - whenever I have been there, and I have managed England in internationals there - it doesn't capture the atmosphere that you had at the old stadium. Sunderland haven't really been up there trying to win anything so it is not like the old days, but they beat Arsenal there last year, so Arsene Wenger won't need any reminding that it is a tough place to go.

Of all the games we covered for ESPN last year, the best performance of any team away from home was Sunderland at Old Trafford. Because of Lee Cattermole's two red cards this season they will probably get labelled a physical side and there is no doubt they can stand up for themselves, but that day at Old Trafford they played Manchester United off the park for most of the match and were the unluckiest team in the world to only come away with a point. It should be a really interesting game.


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