Farewell Frank? Why Arsenal won’t miss Chelsea legend Lampard

Frank Lampard and Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp back in May 2002, the England midfielder's first season

Frank Lampard and Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp back in May 2002, the England midfielder's first season at Chelsea. - Credit: EMPICS Sport

A scourge of the Gunners for more than a decade, Sunday could be the last time midfielder faces Arsenal

Frank Lampard has been a constant at the heart of the Chelsea midfield for so long that even Arsenal fans would admit – maybe grudgingly – that he is one of the finest the Premier League has seen.

Yet Sunday’s showdown at Stamford Bridge could be the last time that Lampard faces Arsenal, with it all but confirmed that he will leave the Blues at the end of the season.

There will be no shortage of suitors for a player who has scored almost 200 goals for the club he joined in 2001, when there were still major doubts about his talent to play at the highest level.

Those doubts seem laughable now. Lampard was a mainstay of Jose Mourinho’s side which won successive league titles in 2005 and 2006, and has been scoring goals and picking up medals under different managers ever since, completing his set with last May’s Champions League triumph.

During his early days at West Ham and then his first couple of seasons at Chelsea, Lampard was often eclipsed in games by the three titanic midfield talents at the other members of the big four; Manchester United’s Roy Keane, Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Arsenal’s own Patrick Vieira.

But Lampard’s slavish work ethic, his appetite for goals and the levels of fitness that mean he rarely misses a game have seen him move alongside those players in the pantheon of the Premier League’s best men in the middle.

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At 34, and with 93 England caps also to his name, Lampard has nothing left to prove and could be expected to perhaps follow David Beckham across the pond to the MLS, while linking up with his former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti at Paris St-Germain is another option. Since it became clear that Lampard’s contract would not be extended at Stamford Bridge, it seems like a ‘Farewell Frank’ tour has begun.

His recent goals have been greeted almost wistfully by the press and public, as records have fallen and the goalscoring marks of such club legends as Kerry Dixon have been surpassed.

So why are Chelsea letting him go? Age is one reason but, undeniably, money is another. Lampard is one of the highest earners at Stamford Bridge with a salary believed to be in excess of £150,000 per week.

With the financial fair play regulations already having come into play, Chelsea simply cannot afford to keep on players like Lampard and his fellow England veteran Ashley Cole on such remuneration. Even the deep pockets of Roman Abramovich have limits.

If he stayed, Lampard would have to accept a huge cut in his wages, and probably only a one-year contract. Neither would be that attractive to a player who will have plenty of offers on the table for the last lucrative contract of an illustrious playing career.

A move abroad beckons but there is also the possibility that Lampard will be tempted to remain in this country, after last week’s speculation concerning a switch to Old Trafford.

Linking up with his uncle – and old boss in his formative years at West Ham – Harry Redknapp at QPR in the summer has also been mooted, and there has also been talk of another move across London – to Arsenal.

It seems far-fetched, almost a ridiculous notion, but there is a theory that you couldn’t find a better role model for the Gunners’ recently signed up young ‘British core’ than a player who rose to the very top by making the most of every last drop of his ability.

The familiar stumbling block of wages will doubtless rule it out, but Lampard, as he hopes to show again on Sunday, feels he still has plenty to offer for at least another two years. Despite his and the fans’ pleas, that will not be at Chelsea.

The scramble for his services come June promises to be both genuine and compelling. Not bad for a player once derided as ‘fat Frank’.

Ever since he scored the goal that changed the course of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Arsenal at Highbury in 2004, Lampard and his Chelsea side have been a nemesis for Arsenal.

The Gunners will be hoping for one last moment of retribution on Sunday, and then will happily join in the crowd waving him into whichever sunset he chooses.