Bacary Sagna, the centre-back conundrum and Carl Jenkinson

Posted: July 21, 2013 in Arsenal, Premier League
Sagna takes a breather during his best performance of last season away at Sunderland.

Sagna takes a breather during his best performance of last season away at Sunderland.

In a past season that has just seen Arsenal end with the 2nd best defensive record in the league, it’s been quite odd to see three Arsenal defenders (one not at the club anymore) come under a lot of scrutiny from the fans; Bacary Sagna in particular. Following five seasons of showing the utmost consistency, Sagna followed that up by putting in some shoddy performances last season – this not helped by the fact that there’s still a massive question mark over his future as he enters the final year of his contract.

From people saying he didn’t care about the club anymore to others saying he was entitled to an off season following the aforementioned previous seasons of consistency, this was one of the factors which divided the Arsenal fan base last season. Sagna, himself, didn’t help the cause by doing the whole “I want to see better players at the club” drama act which has become synonymous with an Arsenal player leaving, what with him entering his final contractual year. What sometimes turned out to be an adequate/good defensive performance from Sagna was later slated and undone by fans aplenty who chose to focus solely on his consistent inability to send a cross into the box. There are a few arguments that counteract the crossing debate, some of them along the lines of “we don’t have anyone to aim for in the box”. Now, whilst that argument may have some substance to it, it’s still frustrating to see Sagna continuously fail to get the ball past the first man. But that’s something we’ve always put up with when it comes to Sagna: he’s not the best going forward, but he makes up for it with his defensive work. But it only began to anger people last season because they, in my opinion, tried to distance themselves from him in order to cushion the blow of  seeing one of the best right-backs to ever pull on an Arsenal shirt leave the club.

When injuries hit the Arsenal back-line last season, as they seem to always do, Sagna was called upon to make a surprising appearance at centre-back. Many doubts were cast over this decision due to his height (many forgetting his prolific win percentage in aerial duels)  and the fact he’d been having poor games every so often. So as the whistle blew and the ball left the centre-circle, Sagna stood next to Mertesacker as fans hoped and prayed that the defence wouldn’t come under heaps of pressure from Sunderland attacks; they did. Fast-forward 90-odd minutes and the whistle blows for the final time as the camera pans to the two men who played a pivotal part in clinging on to a one goal lead: Sagna and Szczesny. This performance in a, somewhat, unfamiliar position for Sagna had the fans ranting and raving as they touted him as our new 3rd choice centre-back and dubbed his majestic performance as ‘the best performance of the season from any of our defenders’ – and it was hard to argue against that, at the time.

Fast-forward a few months and Sagna is still at the club, enjoying his pre-season and speaking of how he wants to keep playing for the club. No signs of leaving, as of writing this (I’ve jinxed it, haven’t I?). In a 7-1 win over Vietnam in pre-season last week, Sagna played at centre-back again and, albeit against a relatively awful side, put in another great performance next to Koscielny and then Mertesacker. The question on everyone’s lips is “is this a new position that Sagna will play in, if needs be, next season?”. That question is usually met by most fans saying that they’d much rather Arsenal sign a new centre-back, which I can’t disagree with. But here’s my theory: Sagna’s entering his last year and probably won’t renew, meaning Wenger has no real obligation to keep playing him even when he’s turning in bad performances, like last season. This means that, if Sagna keeps playing like he did in patches last season, Jenkinson will be able to cement his spot in the right-back position. If Vermaelen stays, despite being out injured for 2-3 months, it means we’ll have three centre-backs and one makeshift centre-back – enough for going into the season with. Because it’s Sagna’s last season, providing he stays and doesn’t renew, it means we can begin to ease Jenkinson into the right-back position and start thorough scouting for a young centre-back, possibly in the mould of Kurt Zouma, for the 14/15 season. Although there are many variables in that theory, the main three being Sagna staying, not renewing his contract and Vermaelen staying, it’s something which I’d like to see us go through with. Sagna would be set for his Arsenal swansong, passing down his final pearls of wisdom to Jenkinson whilst helping the team out in various position, showing professionalism and a love for the club. The best case scenario would be Sagna returning to his best and, as much as we all love him, I think the two injuries and age have finally taken their toll on Sagna; although I do hope I’m wrong.

Jenkinson recently spoke of pushing Sagna for a place in the first-team and wanting to be on that England plane for Rio 2014 and I firmly believe Wenger will give Jenkinson more than the 19 appearances he was handed, in all competitions, last season. Jenkinson has to grasp every opportunity he gets and begin to cement himself in the Arsenal starting 11. Why? Because this, as I’ve said in the post, could be Sagna’s last season and there’s no-one Jenkinson will learn more from in his position than Sagna. Jenkinson has all the tools to become a mainstay in that right-back position for the next ten years, or even more: he can defend, his crossing is mouthwatering in comparison to Sagna’s *insert joke here about an elderly person in my family having better crossing ability than Sagna* and he’s determined to shine for the club that he’s loved all his life. Jenkinson has also had the privilege of learning from Sagna and hopefully he can emulate the consistency that Sagna’s shown throughout his time at Arsenal. Once Sagna decides it’s time to switch the red and white of The Arsenal for the boring, plain, stupid colours of any other club, we will have a well-equipped Jenkinson, able to mix everything he’s learned from the Frenchman into his own game.

To reiterate my points: I want Sagna to stay for his final year, I’d prefer for us to sign a centre-back this summer but I wouldn’t be annoyed if we manage to hold onto Vermaelen and use Sagna as our makeshift centre-back.

Until next time, ta-ra.

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