With the Frenchman's contract up at the season's end and Manuel Pellegrini's men reportedly showing interest, Michael Cox assesses what the 31-year-old's departure would mean...
Speculation that Manchester City have offered Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna a three-year contract has come at an interesting time – the two sides meet at the Emirates this weekend.
Sagna is a committed professional, of course, and there’s no suggestion he’ll give anything less than 100% even if he intends to follow fellow Frenchmen Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri to Manchester, but another defection to a genuine rival would be a further blow to Arsenal. Many expected Sagna would return to France with PSG or Monaco, should he decide to sever ties with Arsenal after seven years as first-choice right-back.
Indeed, in an Arsenal side often viewed as lacking experience, Sagna would be a big loss – no current Arsenal player has made more Premier League appearances, and while rarely considered one of Arsenal’s obvious leaders, Sagna’s reliability and commitment makes him a popular figure in the dressing room. With Carl Jenkinson not impressing enough to suggest he’s ready to become a regular, Arsenal would need a replacement.
Wenger has always been reluctant to hand lengthy new contracts to players over the age of 30, and full-back is not a position for veterans. As a Guardian report earlier this week discovered, only 2% of all Premier League minutes played by full-backs come after the 33rd birthday, which is less than any other position. So much of full-back play is about energy, stamina and constant bursts of pace, and Sagna might not be able to sustain that over the course of the three-year deal he’s supposedly been anticipating.
Sagna’s form has wavered over the last two years. Last season was probably his weakest as an Arsenal player – he continually made mistakes in big matches, with a defeat away at Chelsea particularly obvious for the way Arsenal repeatedly looked open in the right-back zone. For the 1-1 draw with Manchester United later in the season, Arsenal were similarly exposed in that position.
This season, however, the right-back has been rejuvenated, and when playing at his peak, Sagna is the complete full-back. His defensive positioning is good, he’s extremely strong in the tackle, and he’s capable of motoring up and down the touchline repeatedly. His role at Arsenal is interesting – because Arsenal generally use Theo Walcott (when fit) high up on the right, Sagna finds it difficult to overlap and get in advance of him. Instead, he’s forced to bide his time, and cross from much deeper positions.
His delivery from wide has been excellent this season. In the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford, for example, he curled some wonderful crosses into the box – and though many show up as unsuccessful on Stats Zone, in reality they were perfect balls Olivier Giroud simply failed to connect with.
He’s also surprisingly good in the air, and much like fellow French full-back Patrice Evra, appears to have discovered his true jumping and heading ability relatively late in his career.
But in arguably his poorest display of the season so far, the 6-0 thrashing at Chelsea last week, he failed to complete a single tackle.
This weekend’s contest will be an interesting match for Sagna, up against Nasri, who will drift inside and attempt to drag his compatriot out of position. Unusually, perhaps the opposition manager will be watching Sagna as closely as his own boss – this weekend’s performance might have a large influence on who he plays for next season.