As Arsenal completed their final Premier League home game of the season, beating West Brom at walking pace, the Gunners’ fans took the opportunity to audibly acknowledge the contribution of one particular member of the side. More than once during the game, and while the players undertook their traditional close-season lap of honour, they were serenaded by the supporters with cries of ‘Bacary Sagna, we want you to stay’.
Arsenal’s ever-present right-back led the team as they saluted the fans after the match, in what appeared to be a symbolic gesture that the contract which has been tabled for him by the club, will remain that way. Unsigned and, ultimately, unwanted.
In another performance typical of all Sagna’s qualities as a player, he was awarded with the man-of-the-match award by WhoScored.com, achieving a 7.93 match rating. He had more touches than any other player while making seven clearances, three interceptions, and winning six aerial duels. Attacking-wise he was also effective, creating two goalscoring chances; as many as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, bettered only by Olivier Giroud.
Sagna has been an omnipresent figure since his arrival. He’s been Wenger’s first-choice since the day he walked through the doors at the London Colney training ground, and his quality has remained consistent throughout.
During the barren years at Arsenal, there have been few greater servants to the club than Bacary Sagna. Having joined as a relatively unknown player from Auxerre in 2007, Sagna has grown into one of the most consistent and well-regarded full-backs in the game. He’s been one of the club’s unsung heroes across his seven-year stay, appearing 282 times. While the appreciation of Sagna has never been as vocal in the stadium as it is for numerous others, it does not devalue the sentimentality many fans harbour towards the Frenchman.
Sagna’s Arsenal career has not been decorated in the manner fitting of a player of his talents and temperament. His seven-year stay has never been blighted by ill-discipline or stories of off-field controversies in the media. He hasn’t made his name as anything other than a consummate professional, and the lack of medals does no justice to his reputation or levels of application.
Not only in terms of silverware, Arsenal’s Mr. Reliable simply hasn’t been given the just rewards worthy of his service to Arsenal, by Arsenal. But for the dogmatism of Arsenal’s contractual system – with regard to over-30s – the suggestion is that Sagna was prepared to commit his long-term future to the club. Now, after much umming and ahhing from the club, with the ball back in Sagna’s court, it seems as though he’s opted for the exit. The big contract he feels he has rightly earned has not been forthcoming, and he’s looking elsewhere as a result.
Ignoring the sentimental reasons as to why Sagna will be missed, his imminent departure threatens to leave a gaping hole at the club which should already be of paramount importance to Arsene Wenger. For all his potential, Carl Jenkinson has yet to prove himself to be a justifiable immediate replacement.
Much of the success this season has been built around the trustworthiness of the Arsenal defence, of which Sagna has been a key figure. His likely departure has been evident for months now, and you like to think Wenger has been planning for such an occurrence. For all the necessities in terms of squad renovations this summer, there should be no task of greater urgency than addressing the hole Sagna’s absence will create.
The kind of money the Gunners will need to fork out in order to find an adequate replacement would have been better invested elsewhere. To see fees of around £30million mooted with regards to Southampton’s 18-year-old left-back Luke Shaw, you have to believe that right-backs of an equivalent calibre aren’t going to be found in the bargain basement.
The rumours of Paris St Germain and Manchester City’s interest in Sagna shows the pedigree that he has continentally, and make it even more difficult to accept the scenario that has unravelled. He is valued by top clubs, and to see him leave on a free and strengthen a direct rival will rub salt into the wounds.
Among the pantheon of Arsenal’s great players, it’s difficult to assess where Sagna will fit in years to come. Individually, Wenger has worked with few more accomplished full-backs. But his tenure has coincided with a period where the club has struggled to compete for the honours he would have hoped they would.
What is less taxing to assess is the current feeling for Sagna at Arsenal. He’s cherished by the fans, and they couldn’t have made it any clearer. The day he goes will be a sad one, and it will be Wenger’s job to limit the damage his departure will cause.