Full-backs have been an important part of Arsenal’s game for years. Long-term partners Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn deserved not only a place among Arsenal legends but also in pop-culture before leaving their spots to Lauren and Ashley Cole/Sylvinho. The fast counter-attacks based on an incredible transformation from defense to attack and a big number of players that were participating in that transformation couldn’t be imagined without Lauren and Cole who were marauding forward on a regular basis. The lack of real wingers that would play in 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 as well as the 4-1-2-2-1 formation influenced by the role of our full-backs.
When we take a look at the most successful European sides this season, quality on the flanks – which includes both quality full-backs and wingers – is one of their common characteristics. Barcelona have used Dani Alves as an additional strength while attacking for years while their left flank has been strengthened this summer with a member of the European champions’ squad Jordi Alba. FAnchester United have capitalized on excellent form of Rafael and Patrice Evra while Bayern Muenchen have used Lahm’s and Alaba’s pace very well.
Our current squad has four strong options on the right and left side but it doesn’t necessarily mean no changes will be made in the summer, especially given Sagna’s contract expires in the summer of 2014.
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When he is 100 percent fit and in-form, Sagna was arguably the best right full-back in the Premiership and I would dare to say even in the world since he is much better at defending than Dani Alves. Unfortunately, Sagna has been either injured or out-of-form during the larger part of 2012 and 2013. When it comes to defense, he has been caught out of position too often. When it comes to attack, his crosses has failed to reach their target in the box. The brightest spot of his 2012-13 season has been the man-of-the-match performance against Sunderland away where he was used in an unusual central defender role paired with Per Mertesacker which gave a few new ideas to both Wenger and fans.
Sagna is 30 and his contract will expire in the summer 2014. Given his recent injury record (two leg breaks in 2011-12) and form, it seems highly unlikely that he is going to stay in Arsenal for 2013-14…at least as a full-back. The current situation with our central defenders (Mertesacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen are in rotation with inconsistency in form, Squillaci’s contract is – thank God! – expiring in three months time, Djourou is on loan at Hannover 96 with an uncertain future despite renewing contract last year, and Wenger seems to be careful with Miquel’s playing time) suggests that we might need reinforcements in that department this summer. The cheapest reinforcement might be Sagna, provided that his performance against Sunderland wasn’t just a false dawn, something that has hit us already with Ramsey’s good performance against City or Arteta’s performances as a defensive midfielder.
Sagna has pace and strength to challenge opponents in the air but it would require a test against more powerful attackers than Steven Fletcher to see how good Sagna as a central defender really is. Given that Wenger already issued somewhat of a hard-ball statement regarding the possible departure of French international, it is possible that Sagna will stay at Arsenal as a central defender next season.
The young English international has been one of the best Gunners this season and a player that has made the largest improvement since last summer. His ability to defend has been more convincing than Sagna’s and he is a part of the so-called young British core that is expected to carry Arsenal back to trophy lane in the future.
His form declined due to Sagna’s come-back which saw Jenkinson dropped to the bench. His performances against both Bayern and Swansea were brilliant, with a lot of determination and, what is usually left out from reports and descriptions, improvement in the attacking department. He is not a finished article yet (luckily for England, he is not a Finnished article either!) and he can still improve when it comes to the passing game in our own half.
Carl’s performances apparently have made Roberto Mancini interested in him despite the fact City have Douglas Maicon, an experienced Brazilian, Pablo Zabaleta, arguably one of the most consistent performers in Mancini’s team, and Micah Richards, the young English international that can be used both as a right full-back and central defender. Hopefully, Arsenal will reject any offer the Citizens make.
Richards has had problems with injuries so far. His physical abilities make him capable of playing both as a central and right defender but it seems Roberto Mancini doesn’t see him in any of those positions. Had he had a better injury record, I would raise both of my arms for an attempt to snatch him from Manchester City. However, I believe that Arsenal don’t need any more injury-prone players as we already have Sagna, Gibbs, Diaby and Rosicky who have spent a lot of time on the sidelines instead of on the pitch.
This rumour is an unusual one since we are more used to see Arsenal players linked (and eventually agreed terms) with Barcelona. However, times may have changed since we have been connected with at least three Barcelona players – David Villa, Victor Valdes and Dani Alves. The latter has been one of the best right full-backs for years despite the fact his defensive qualities haven’t been a match to his attacking prowess.
Some people used to mock his defenive skills saying that Barcelona don’t play 4-3-3 but 3-4-3 as Alves is more a wing-back than a full-back. He is pacey and capable of sending decent crosses into the box as well as taking shots himself from open play or free kicks in the same fashion his famous compatriot Roberto Carlos used to from the opposite flank. He might not be the most likeable player in the world but his signing would be a real statement, not to mention that he would add a new dimension to our attack.
Although he has been apart of the Arsenal team for only seven weeks, the Spanish full-back has established himself as a solid option for the full-back position. His ability to participate in attack was rounded with his first goal in an Arsenal shirt scored against Swansea last week. He might still lack understanding with his team-mates from defense (which is a normal thing given that he practically joined our team straight from the plane) but he has shown brilliant individual defensive skills so far.
Just like Jenkinson, Gibbs hasn’t been just one for the future but also the one for today. His performances in the opening matches of the season were excellent but the first injury against West Ham stopped both him and Arsenal. His presence and absence have both been very visible in Arsenal matches. Since his return from the first injury Gibbs has shown inconsistent performances. When it comes to defending, he was usually beaten by one-twos from overlapping opponents but it’s not entirely his fault given that he had very little help from Podolski from the left side of our attack.
If there is something that puts a question mark over his Arsenal future, it’s the fact that he is very susceptible to injuries.
The newest Southampton product has been connected with Arsenal since the start of the season. The Saints have been reluctant to sell him and the player himself declared that he is a Chelsea fan which implies he won’t sign for Arsenal.
Conclusion: our team needs a lot of “quid pro quo” from our full-backs and wingers no matter what kind of formation Arsene Wenger is going to use. Wingers must help the full-backs in their defensive duties while full-backs must become an extra option for our attack in order to stretch the opponents’ defense. Also, full-backs must improve their crosses in order to use the aerial power of Olivier Giroud.
When it comes to players that will fulfill those positions, Sagna’s contract that expires in 15 months time is the only reason to think that there will be any changes.