With fewer than six months remaining on his current deal, a difference in opinions from both sides of the negotiations and plenty of football to worry about in the meantime – Bacary Sagna’s contract situation is something that the club must resolve sooner rather than later.
As it stands, should the player signed from Auxerre in 2007 decide to move on at the end of the season, Arsenal will receive nothing. Since the new calendar year, clubs will have been able to begin pre-contract talks with Sagna without Arsenal’s consent. Turkish giants Galatasaray are reportedly keen to bring the player to Istanbul however it seems that the Frenchman would prefer to remain in North London.
Wenger has let star players move on after reaching the wrong side of 30 in the past but Sagna has shown that age in football, despite this normally not being the case, really can just be a number. Here’s another number. 2. The Frenchman has recovered from no fewer than two broken legs in his Arsenal career. Both occurred during the 11-12 campaign and whilst fortunately they weren’t in the same category as Ramsey/Eduardo, two major injuries in the space of seven months would have derailed the careers of lesser footballers. That’s not to say that Sagna hasn’t suffered as a result of these breaks but he’s made it out the other side now and remains a top class player.
On average Sagna manages just over 3 assists a season with 22 in all competitions during his six and a half years in North London so far. In recent seasons, his method of supply has been adapted in relation to the full back’s physical limitations. Injuries and aging, he’ll be 31 on Valentine’s day, mean that the Senegalese rooted Frenchman attacks in a far more considered manner than during his first few seasons in the red and white. Sagna’s most productive season for supplying his teammates was in fact his first; he notched an impressive 6 assists.
Since then some of the explosiveness has been lost from his offensive ventures and it is less frequent that we see Sagna getting beyond the opposition’s left full back, a sight that was commonplace not too long ago. Whilst Sagna used to be able to rely on his speed to beat his man he no longer can. Now he finds himself having to make a yard before whipping in his crosses; gone are the days of bombing down the line.
This adaptation to the technical side of his game so late in his career is particularly impressive but not entirely surprising given the nature of the man. Undoubtedly Sagna’s temperament is a giant reason behind this and many of his other qualities. Playing at full back is an extremely demanding job. It encompasses both defensive and attacking responsibilities and to be the best in this position, which Sagna certainly has been amongst and I feel is still up there with, requires both intelligence and composure alongside ability. Sagna has incorporated these qualities into his crossing. He chooses his runs carefully, fashions space well and is able to drop the ball into dangerous areas as well as find the heads of teammates frequently.
The foundation for attacks
From a tactical standpoint Sagna is not only an integral member of a back four that have conceded only 19 times in 21 league games, six of which were conceded away at Manchester City on an uncharacteristically weak day defensively, but also a unique and valuable attacking asset. Besides the threat of supply that he poses when advanced up the field from right back into the right wing position, if utilised well Sagna can also be the catalyst for sparking attacks.
From goal kicks and set pieces within our own final-third the ball is commonly lofted towards Sagna around the halfway line on the right wing. The French international has an incredible leap and can outclimb most left wingers that he is likely to find himself jumping against. These flick-ons remove the beaten player that Sagna contested the header with from the game and often give Arsenal possession between the opposition’s midfield and defence. This is just one of the methods that Wenger utilises to get his dangermen possession in such a crucial area of the field, but without Sagna in the side it wouldn’t even be an option.
Though it might be a stretch to claim that Sagna has improved significantly at the defensive side of his game since his arrival he has irrefutably convinced the manager of the progression made to the attacking side. Sagna has always been a good defender and although I don’t think that this season’s impressive statistics are as much a sign of his development as they are a sign that we have an awesome back five collectively, testament should still be given to his defensive exploits.
Where vast improvement is evident is in his attacking presence. In seasons past where Emmanuel Eboué, now playing for Sagna’s proposed suitors Galatasaray, was also part of our roster, Wenger would utilise him at right back in home games against lesser teams. This was because Arsenal were expected to be dominant and Eboué gave us a better attacking option from right back than Sagna.
The former Auxerre man remained first choice for all away games and also home games against the league’s tougher opposition as he was undoubtedly the better defender. Eboué’s 25 assists for the club came in a similar space of time to Sagna’s 22 so far, however the Ivorian was occasionally afforded the right midfield role.
Wenger no longer considers rotating Sagna. A consequence of his rounded offensive improvement has meant that requiring a more offensive right back option in the squad for certain games isn’t even a thought for the gaffer.
The future of the right back position
We NEED to retain the services of Sagna for next season. He has been a crucial player for Arsenal over the years and his performances this season have been of vital importance; unless there are plans to spend big on replacing him, he has to stay especially as Jenkinson’s current capabilities mean that he is only suitable as back up. Sagna can also fill in at center back, the importance of which cannot be overlooked as Thomas Vermaelen is our only recognised player in that position besides Koscielny and Mertesacker.
Nevertheless, if we can convince the player to stay this is more than likely to be Sagna’s last contract with the club and it won’t be long before the man who is arguably the first outfield name on the team sheet must be replaced. It’s difficult to name a right back in world football that is conclusively better than Sagna so we’ll do very well to replace him when his stay at the Emirates does eventually come to an end.
On this season’s form, Everton’s Seamus Coleman would be an exciting prospect however even if we were to be interested that would be a difficult deal to pull off. Whoever he deems to be a worthy successor to Sagna’s Arsenal legacy, Wenger is the right man to make that decision. For now though the boss should act on delaying that decision by giving Sagna the deal that will keep him at the club for a little while longer.