For years Samir Nasri has been trying to play down comparisons with Zinedine Zidane. Since a starring role for France at the European Under 17 Championships in 2004, similarities have been drawn between Nasri and the retired World Cup-winning playmaker. Both are attacking midfielders and were born in Marseille to Algerian immigrants. A £12 million (Dh65.5m) move to Arsenal in 2008 served to add to the argument. Nasri displayed the same dribbling style, unnerving balance and eye for a pass as the Real Madrid and Juventus legend.
But, after an inspirational performance against Porto to guide Arsenal into the last eight of the Champions League, the comparisons being made are not with Zidane, but with Cesc Fabregas. Whenever Arsenal are missing Fabregas, who had a hamstring injury on Tuesday, there is a fear that they will suffer and they have done on previous occasions. Not only did they show they are no one-man team with a 5-0 win over Porto, but Arsenal proved they are Champions League and Premier League contenders.
In Nasri, they have a replacement for their captain fantastic, and a worthy successor should Fabregas ever seek to solidify unending speculation of a return to Barcelona. Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has tried to accommodate his ability by putting him on the left or right side of midfield, but Nasri has yearned to be a central figure. It is the position in which he rose to prominence at Marseille, asserting the same kind of influence on matches as Zidane. The stature and strength of Zizou may be missing, but style and skills are very much among Nasri's attributes.
Nasri is a month younger than Fabregas, but has not developed - or consistently put his stamp on games - in the way his teammate has. A fractured fibula affected his start this season, but he thrived on the extra responsibility on Tuesday and the 63rd-minute goal - which saw him dribble past three players - was world class. But there is more to Nasri's game than just scoring, with his ability to unlock the offside trap and willingness to track back and help his defenders.
"The great players for me are the players who give assists and score goals - and that is what you want from him," said Wenger. "What he [Nasri] showed in the game, he has shown in training, and we expected that to come out in games. He is a player with talent and he has started to be efficient now." On the evidence, it would seem wise for Nasri to continue to weave his magic in the middle. But Wenger said: "When Fabregas comes back, Nasri will play wide."
Fabregas is still an essential part of the manager's game plan. Wenger added: "Sometimes you can miss a great player for one game or two games, but one game is never enough to judge. Over a longer distance you see that better." However, Nasri is showing that, though Arsenal fans may not want to consider the prospect, there is life after Fabregas. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org