LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas believes Arsenal are now looking strong enough to win the Premier League title for the first time since 2004 and he hopes they do because the club "is in my heart".
The Spain midfielder, who played 303 games for Arsenal in his eight years there before returning home to Barcelona in 2011, said he would love to return one day, possibly as a coach after his playing days are over.
"Arsenal is in my heart and always will be," Fabregas, who made his debut for Arsenal as a 16-year-old 10 years ago this weekend, told The Guardian newspaper.
"It was important for me to leave... and I am sure the fans understood."
Arsenal last won a major trophy - the FA Cup - in 2005, but their play in the early weeks of this season has won widespread acclaim and they have emerged as strong title contenders for the title, especially as champions Manchester United have made a sluggish start.
Arsenal are top of the table with 19 points from eight games, United are eight points behind.
Asked if the Gunners could mount a realistic challenge this season, he replied: "I really hope so. They've started very well.
"They look very strong, let's see how they last. In the Premier League you can be going well and then you lose two games and slip away quickly. It's very sudden, a lot gets decided over Christmas."
Regarding United's poor start he said: "With Manchester United there is always talk of a dip - the end's coming it's over - and they always end up right up there.
"You can't trust them (to fail). Ten years ago I arrived in England and for 10 years people have said "Look out, this year Manchester might collapse. But it never happens."
He said the time came for him to leave Arsenal because he had to return to his boyhood club Barcelona, where he had been in the youth team. But his departure has cleared the way for others to develop.
"I watch the way (Aaron) Ramsey is playing now, how he looks so liberated and I think maybe I blocked his way," he said.
"Maybe I was an obstacle. Sometimes you need someone to leave for you to step forward and say: "I'm here."
He also said he would welcome going back to the club when his playing career is over.
"I don't know if I will have the opportunity to go back and play there, or maybe after football.
"The club is like a family so even if it wasn't as a coach, I'm sure they'd give me the chance to play a role.
"It's a club that will always open its doors for me."
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger responded on Friday saying: "I am very happy that a player of his intelligence, technical ability and knowledge would come back one day," he told reporters at his Friday news conference.
"That he'd come back shows he has kept fond memories of this club." (Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Pritha Sarkar)