Once again, it seems as though Arsenal could well be on the verge of selling one of their most consistent and reliable performers over recent years. I’m sorry if that sounds very a) Tabloid-y and b) pessimistic, but it seems to me as though it’s the truth. He’s been talking for months about how he’s not entirely happy at Arsenal, and even his very recent comments admitting his own dip in form recently seem cloaked by an underlying wish to leave the club. But is he worth it?
As with my Alex Song piece from the summer, I find that Bacary divides fans hugely. Some fans adore him, and with good reason – he’s been superb over the past few seasons since claiming the right back spot off Emmanuel Eboue, and always seemed 100% committed to the cause. Up until the end of last season, he was our very own Mr. Dependable. Having said that, two leg breaks later, and he seems a shadow of his former self, and in the eyes of some is now (one of our) Mr. Dispensable (see what I did there?)
One can’t shy away from the fact, and the undisputed cause in his lack of form – we’ve unfortunately seen enough broken legs at Arsenal to know how devastating they can be, both on the pitch and mentally too. I can only recall Na$ri as one who’s actually improved after the injury out of our numerous recent casualties (Diaby, Eduardo, Na$ri, Ramsey, Fabregas, Sagna). It’s hard for any professional to come back from such a serious injury, especially into an environment where you will be punished for any mistake you make.
Unfortunately, there have been too many mistakes from Sagna recently. The glaringly obvious one would be the misjudgement of Suarez’s miss-kick, which led to Liverpool’s first goal. Okay, so he’s anticipating the ball to go down the line, but he is still lacking the athleticism and speed of thought to react to the unpredictable. But this isn’t the only one. Arguably, he was at fault for all 3 Newcastle goals over the festive period – that time he was lucky that we scored more than them, but against top class opponents, that wouldn’t have been the case. No disrespect intended to Le Toon by the way, but they had numerous injuries, were in a terrible rut of form, and were overly reliant on Demba Ba.
Speaking of Le Toon, and their very own French Revolution, I couldn’t help but notice how good Mathieu Debuchy was at EURO 2012, deputising for our very own Sagna. Watching their warm-up game against Iceland (mainly to ‘scout’ Giroud, who played brilliantly), it was clear that he had potential. Watching France at the Euro’s, it was clear he’d fulfil it. He seemed a perfect fit at Arsenal, especially given our full back problems the previous season, but alas we didn’t go in for him, and he remained at Lille until Pardeux snapped him up.
However, defensive frailty wasn’t the only side-effect from Sagna’s injuries. As a full back (especially at Arsenal), it’s crucial to balance your play effectively between attack and defence. Take Andre Santos for example…he’s at his best when he’s attacking, and providing runs that baffle opponents (and supporters)…or in other words, when he’s as far away from our goal as possible. Unfortunately for us, that’s a lot of the time, and there’s no balance in the side. Conversely, when we were forced into playing Koscielny/Djourou/Vermaelen out wide, there was no attacking threat, and we were blunt. I must add that this balance is crucial in maximising the potential of our wingers. It’s no coincidence that Walcott was much better in front of Sagna last season, and likewise Podolski’s form dipped significantly when Gibbs was out – Gibbs came back in, Podolski started banging them in…
Sagna’s reading of the game has always been pretty spot on, as has his athleticism. One of Sagna’s most useful assets has been his aerial prowess from Szczesny’s kicks – if we want to win the ball, it goes to Sagna…except it doesn’t anymore, because in my mind he’s lost a bit of that desire. If there’s one fitter player in our squad than Sagna, (other than maybe Jack Wilshere) it’s got to be the hardcore Gooner Carl Jenkinson. A lot has been said about him recently in the press and on various blogs/social media sites, and unlike last season, positive things are getting spread, not negatives as was the case last year. The balance that I mentioned above is one of the most endearing things about Carl. He’s added the ability to attack when needed, but also recognise when he has to stay back. This comes down to fitness of course, but also the desire that I talked about earlier.
Jenkinson’s performances were of the highest calibre earlier on in the season, but they went seemingly unnoticed by Wenger, who promptly reinstated his veteran compatriot in the RB role. In my eyes, this was unfair – he’s always been a stickler for retaining faith in youth players (some say too much), but on this occasion it seemed as though there was no other explanation other than reputation. Okay so Jenkinson made one error against Swansea, but the game had already been lost, and at any rate, Sagna’s made more recently. Surely that’s grounds to recall Jenkinson?
Carl is a star in the making – I’m well aware that I could be made to look really stupid in a few years time if he turns into the next Santos, but I really don’t think he will. I was of the belief that he’d turn into a centre back over the next few years, but having seen how good his crossing is (better than anyone else in the squad, and certainly most consistent), I can see him making the right back slot his own in the next few years. Wenger clearly knew what he was doing by not buying Debuchy.
But that’s for the future, and frankly Wenger needs some short term results, generally and more specifically with Bacary as well. He supposedly wants 80k a week from us, which I don’t think is worth it. Not sure how much one can read into this, but I remember waiting for Sagna outside the W.B.A. u-21 game for a chance to meet my (former) favourite player. Firstly, he shunned me, even though he was clearly early, and there weren’t that many people there. Secondly, the minute he got on the bus, he plugged his ‘Beats’ headphones in, and didn’t talk to anyone. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s nice to be in a dressing room with (plus, rumour has it he dances naked all the time, so yeah…). Conversely, Carl Jenkinson, watching from the stands, was willing to stay for at least an hour after the end to chat to fellow Arsenal fanatics. Sorry if that’s of no interest, but just thought I’d share that nugget of first hand information.
(In case you’re wondering, I got Sagna to sign something for me after saying a few things in French…but only just!)
Sorry, I got sidetracked. Anyway, he supposedly wants 80k a week. Aside from the injury problems, there’s one other factor, and that’s his age. Sagna is undoubtedly a world-class player but he’ll be 30 this coming Valentine’s Day (happy birthday, Bacary!). The question Wenger has to ask himself is whether Sagna will be able to consistently perform week in week out for the next few years (and anyway, what about our over 30′s policy?) As I’ve said before, RB is one of the positions where physical endurance and the ability to get up and down the flank for the whole game is paramount. Someone with the brain of Sagna could maybe get away with being slightly more cautious, as long as he chose his runs carefully so as not to tire himself out.
Realistically, I think that Jenkinson should have been given more time. But that’s in the past, and given that Sagna’s been reinstated he should be given some time to rediscover some of his previous form. In terms of fullbacks, there aren’t many better who Jenkinson could be learning from, but there comes a time where you have to stop paying someone 80k a week for being a teacher. Sagna wouldn’t be happy with that, and neither would the Arsenal bank balance. Another factor would be that changing any member of a back four can drastically harm team chemistry – look at the dip in collective form when Mertesacker was dropped/unavailable earlier in the season.
Bacary Sagna’s situation is a tricky one, and I’m sorry if this isn’t the most decisive piece, but I think that whatever decision is made needs to be made soon so that it doesn’t hang over the entire team, and so that we can prepare ourselves for the possible departure of one of our longest serving and consistent performers. My preference would be that Sagna stays for a year or two longer, and maybe play in the Champions League games, where he has the experience, and Wenger allows Jenkinson to develop in the EPL. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be against Wenger choosing either one depending on the nature of the opposition, but I think it’s naive to assume that Wenger will do that…oh well, c’est la vie!
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