Bacary Sagna was back to his old post on the right side of the defence this past weekend in the friendly against Manchester City as the go-to pair of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were reunited.
The French right-back’s heroic performance last season away to Sunderland has given Arsene Wenger something to think about. Another body for the defence is an absolute must, but staying true to his ideals, Wenger may be opting to look internally to boost his centre-back options.
It’s the kind of decision that walks the fine line between lazy and a little prudent and absolute genius. Eric Abidal, for example, was the ugly duckling in Barcelona’s majestic side under Pep Guardiola. The French left-back was a powerful force on his respective flank. But shuffling him inside to partner one of Guardiola’s other options was seen as a tactical masterstroke. The Frenchman has a frame that befits a natural centre-back, he’s a natural leader and has the pace and power to outmuscle and outmanoeuvre the best in Europe.
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The line of thinking for Wenger is similar. Sagna is still an asset at right-back as it’s clear Carl Jenkinson isn’t quite ready for that role on a permanent basis. But Sagna has always been a better defender than an attacker; if anything, his lack of real contribution going forward can often hamper Arsenal’s bite in the final third. Yes, he gets up and down that right flank with ease and always offers an option for the forwards, but there is an obvious frustration to his hit-and-hope approach to crosses into the box.
The noises coming out of the Arsenal camp is that right-back is now a priority alongside another forward. Jesus Gamez has been touted as an option in a deal that could see Nicklas Bendtner go the other way to Malaga, and that could be the best option for all concerned. Jamez is good but won’t push for regular minutes in the way a player with a loftier status in the game will. He’s one of the captains in the Malaga team and will be of great use, both in relieving Sagna and tutoring Jenkinson.
You’d like to think that there has been some thought to all this and that Wenger isn’t just conjuring a situation to keep himself away from the transfer market, at least the higher end of the scale. Sagna isn’t particularly tall in comparison to traditional centre-backs, but his aerial ability stands out among his best attributes, while his intelligence and obvious pace will be the perfect complement alongside either Mertesacker or Thomas Vermaelen. Sagna, more often than not, has a never-say-die attitude that places him among the natural leaders in the team; if not vocally, then certainly based on performances.
The task Wenger is challenged with this season – though Steve Bould may take on much of this particular aspect – is getting the very best out of his three senior and natural centre-backs. Ideally, Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Koscielny will see the most game time next season, as the “other options” in Johan Djourou and Ignasi Miquel – both loaned out this summer – were clearly not up to the standard of Arsenal’s Premier League and European ambitions.
The task is then made even more difficult in trying to identify a centre-back who is a grade up from Djourou who would be willing to patiently wait his turn. While there is obvious frustration at Wenger’s lack of activity thus far, you can understand why Sagna acting as a makeshift centre-back is the best course of action. A young centre-back with a bright future would be a bonus for the club as a whole, but the resources and focus, for now at least, is central to other areas of the pitch. Sagna is a quick fix, but one that offers far more in the way of footballing upside than simply papering over the cracks.
Is Wenger right to view Sagna as the fourth-choice centre-back for this season?
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