Cesc Fabregas exclusive interview: I'm surprised by Arsenal's evolution, Declan Rice has been key

It has been 20 years since Arsenal last won the title, but Cesc Fabregas believes his former club are on the right track to return to the glory days of Arsene Wenger.

The Gunners are top of the Premier League with seven games to go and host Aston Villa in another big game at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Fabregas, who made more than 300 appearances in eight years at Arsenal, is pleased to see his old side fighting for major trophies again and has noticed an evolution in them this season.

In particular, he was impressed by the way they earned a point at Manchester City two weeks ago by adopting a style of play that caught him off guard.

You go around Europe, you speak to coaches, top teams, fans and they will all say that Arsenal are one of the best

Cesc Fabregas

"Slowly, slowly you see that this team is growing," Fabregas told Standard Sport. "This is 100 per cent a fact.

"You see the way they are competing in a different manner. The way they prepared the game against City, even I didn't expect it. I was expecting a completely different approach, but you see that they are managing maybe the situations a little bit better.

"They are getting this experience, the coaching staff and the players, to find different solutions. It is great to see and I do think they are very close to getting something very soon.

"They are on the right way, 100 per cent they are getting there, 100 per cent they are now Arsenal. You go around Europe, you speak to coaches, top teams, fans and they will all say that Arsenal are one of the best teams to watch and compete."

Arsenal are favourites to win the title this season (Getty Images)
Arsenal are favourites to win the title this season (Getty Images)

Whether the Gunners get over the line in the title race remains to be seen, and Fabregas admits the run-in will be "fascinating" to watch.

Arsenal lead Liverpool on goal difference, while City are just a point behind and Pep Guardiola's side will go top if they beat Luton at home tomorrow. That would crank up the pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool, who face Crystal Palace at Anfield in the early game on Sunday.

"It's so tight," added 36-year-old Fabregas, who is assistant manager at Serie B side Como in Italy. "Three teams full of quality who hardly lose points. The last five years it has been about two teams, really — Liverpool and City — so it is fantastic to have another one in there to create this.

"City maybe have the best fixtures, but Arsenal are proving [their title credentials]. They go to Brighton and win 3-0 by being very solid.

"Maybe experience will also come into it, City always seem to peak at this time of year, when things get serious. We will see, but it is fantastic to see Arsenal getting involved in this race."

Fabregas puts Mikel Arteta alongside Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp as one of the best coaches in the Premier League, and he believes Arsenal deserve credit for standing by him.

Arteta has had rocky periods since being appointed in 2019, most notably at the start of the 2021-22 season, when the Gunners were bottom with no points or goals after three games.

I knew straight away Rice was a fantastic signing. He's just what was needed

Cesc Fabregas

"They gave him the time that every coach needs to be able to make their team," said Fabregas. "If he was in another club, who knows what may have happened in the first two years. But they had a clear plan, a clear vision of what they wanted to do, and they believed in him. They let him work."

Fabregas feels Arsenal have shown signs of evolution under Arteta this season and believes a key factor behind that development has been the signing of Declan Rice.

The midfielder has excelled since his £105million move from West Ham, but his form has not surprised Fabregas.

"For me, he was already a proven player," he said. "You could see for two, three years that he was ready to jump into a big club. It's all about his quality, but also his personality. I knew straight away this was a fantastic signing. This was exactly what Arsenal needed."

Fabregas, who won league titles in England with Chelsea and in Spain with Barcelona, has a simple message for his old side ahead of the title run-in.

"You have been working for eight, nine months, the whole season to get into this position and you just want to get the best out of it," he said. "Whatever brought you here, don't change anything, just keep doing it."