How Arsenal missed out on signing Juan Mata as Cesc Fabregas’ replacement

Arsenal legend Arsene Wenger and Cesc Fabregas
When Fabregas left for Barcelona in 2011, the Gunners turned to another Spaniard (Picture: Getty)

Arsenal were in pole position to sign Juan Mata back in 2011 as a replacement for Barcelona-bound Cesc Fabregas but dithered over the deal, allowing Chelsea to swoop in.

Almost a decade ago, the Gunners were scouring the market for two new playmakers with both Fabregas and Samir Nasri looking to leave; the former returned to Camp Nou, while the latter joined Manchester City.

Arsenal’s scouting department quickly identified two replacements for the duo, both from Spain: Villarreal’s Santi Cazorla and Valencia’s Mata.

Man Utd's Juan Mata and Arsenal's Santi Cazorla
Mata and Cazorla could have been teammates at Arsenal (Picture: Getty)

According to The Athletic, Wenger quickly dispatched Arsenal’s former chief negotiator Dick Law to Spain where he met with Mata’s father and even agreed a contract.

‘Then we waited,’ says Law of the negotiations. ‘Juan definitely wanted to come to Arsenal, there was no question about that.’

However, Wenger and Arsenal were concerned by the combined value of both Mata’s massive contract and the transfer fee – with Valencia eventually receiving £37million.

That would have more than doubled Arsenal’s then transfer record, which stood at the £18m that had been spent on Jose Antonio Reyes.

While Arsenal delayed and dithered, Chelsea swooped in and offered better terms to land Mata, with the Spaniard – who now plays for Manchester United – winning the club’s Player of the Year award in his first two seasons at the club.

Asked if Arsenal ever considered paying slightly over their own valuation to land a target ahead of a rival, Law told The Athletic: ‘I don’t think that calculation ever entered our equation. We didn’t have the money to say, “We’ll spend a bit more to block”.’

Eden Hazard and Juan Mata
Mata left Chelsea for Manchester United after just two-and-a-half seasons (Picture: Getty)

Mata would win the Champions League and FA Cup in his first season at Chelsea, while Arsenal ended up waiting until deadline day to sign Mikel Arteta from Everton and just pipped north London rivals Spurs to third spot in the Premier League.

The Gunners also missed out on Cazorla that summer, who instead joined big-spending Malaga, though a year later Wenger would eventually get his man in a bargain £10m deal.

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