Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger feels the burden of captaincy weighs heavy on Cesc Fabregas, but is in no doubt he will grow stronger from this season's disappointments.
The Gunners are facing up to a sixth campaign without silverware, having seen their Barclays Premier League title hopes evaporate following a run of costly draws and a last-gasp defeat at Bolton. And another loss to leaders Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday could even jeopardise their Champions League qualification.
"It is too much for him at his age. I believe so," Wenger said about the 23-year-old midfielder. "But he is the captain of the team and [Robin] van Persie is vice-captain, they put a lot of pressure on themselves."
Just two months ago, Arsenal were fighting for honours on all four fronts, reaching the Carling Cup final before a shock defeat to Birmingham at Wembley was followed by exits from Europe and the FA Cup at the hands of Barcelona and Manchester United.
Fabregas turns 24 in early May, and while he has already tasted success with Spain at the European Championships and last summer's World Cup, the midfielder is yet to get his hands on any club honours as skipper. Wenger installed Fabregas as his captain in November 2008, stripping William Gallas of the armband following public criticism of his young squad.
And Fabregas recently voiced his own concerns about what Arsenal are missing to convert promise into medals. However, Wenger feels the burning desire for success and leading the team through adversity is a difficult one to balance.
The Arsenal boss said: "Cesc is a winner. He wants to win, he is desperate to win the games, and of course when it does not work, he is frustrated. It is too much because it doesn't go as well. Once it will go well, he will grow with it.
"Every difficulty in life will make you stronger, especially when you have a strong character, and Cesc is a strong character. I believe it will make him stronger, but maybe this season it is a bit of a heavy burden."
Despite the frustrations of this season, Wenger is determined to keep his current group intact.
"I believe that this team has been educated, grown together. The biggest achievement for them will be to win together," he said. "They will have learnt their job the hard way. They have been criticised a lot and, at the moment, they do not get the credit they deserve. Once they win, they will be stronger."
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