Sagna Loss Would Hurt Arsenal Deeply

Bacary Sagna may be 31 but he is still one of Europe's finest right-backs. His imminent loss will hurt Arsenal deeply, says Daniel Storey. Especially if he joins a rival...

Last Updated: 04/05/14 at 15:36 Post Comment

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LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Bacary S

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: Bacary S

A predictable canter for Arsenal at home to a West Brom side still breathing a sigh of relief after holding on to their lead against West Ham last weekend.

This was a match played almost at strolling pace in the North London sunshine, an atmosphere of contentment amongst home supporters and players that the pre-season Premier League mission had been accomplished without any last-day histrionics.

Aaron Ramsey was rested with the FA Cup final in mind and Robert Pires was on the pitch at half-time - things don't get much more relaxing than that on a Sunday afternoon. There aren't too many teams better to watch in possession when in tranquility mode than Arsenal.

However, rather than simply being a meaningless end-of-season exercise, this was actually a match of great note to Arsenal. Unless there is a marked shift in current standing from both parties, this will have been Bacary Sagna's Emirates swansong.

It has been a situation horribly mismanaged by Arsenal. Sagna seems to have been prepared to sign a new deal last summer, but the club were unwilling to offer him a long-term contract given his age (Sagna turned 31 in February), refusing to sell him in a bid to persuade him otherwise. Now reportedly prepared to offer the Frenchman a three-year deal worth £80,000 a week, Sagna has so far refused to sign given his frustrations that is has taken so long and a desire to earn closer to a six-figure weekly salary. It's difficult to argue that he isn't worth it.

"At the moment, the talks are not progressing," Arsene Wenger recently admitted. "We know what we want from him, he knows what is on the table, and that's where we are. The ball is not in our camp any more. It is in his camp, and he needs to come back to us."

There are rumours that Sagna's representatives have already begun discussions with the likes of Internazionale and Paris St Germain. Rules allow foreign clubs to negotiate deals with a player in the final year of his contract but stop domestic sides from doing so. The suggestion is that Sagna is waiting until the end of May to speak to Manchester City about moving to the North West, like Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie before him. Where once stood dark satanic mills, the streets are now apparently paved with gold for Arsenal players.

If Arsenal do indeed lose Sagna, and such a scenario appears overwhelmingly likely, it would be a significant blow for the club. He may well be 31, but is seemingly in perfect physical fitness, with the high-profile nature of his likely suitors a perfect demonstration of exactly how much he still has to give.

Full-backs have become a prized asset in a game that increasingly fails to accept the one-dimensional. Instead, forwards have to be comfortable on the wing, holding midfielders have become more box-to-box, the 'big man' must now be 'good with his feet' and both goalkeepers and central defenders astute in passing as well as just tackling or saving.

Full-backs, for their part, must be more multi-dimensional than most. The athleticism and physical presence of a central midfielder is required, but combined with the crossing and dribbling of an adept winger and the defensive solidity of a central defender, a position in which they are often asked to deputise (Sagna has done so on three occasions this season, Arsenal winning all three). Coming ever closer to the Brazilian description of the 'lateral' full-back, they must overlap on the flanks but still expect criticism if they are caught on the counter attack. It is a hugely difficult task.

Sagna is the epitome of this modern full-back. Athletic and physically robust, he is behind only Theo Walcott (with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain open to debate) in a list of Arsenal's quickest players and, in the absence of both Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during large periods of this season due to injury, has almost been forced to act as attacking right midfielder with Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil tucking in. Against West Brom Sagna made 63 passes, of which more than half were in the opposition half.

In a match as sleepy as that against West Brom, Sagna still ran quicker than any other player on the pitch (33.14 km/h) and sprinted 34 times. This is a player with more touches than any other Arsenal player this season, who has won more aerial duels than any other player, played more passes per game than anyone but Cazorla and Mikel Arteta, created 19 chances, has a couple of assists and a goal.

"Bacary Sagna, we want you to stay" was the audible plea from the stands during the second half after the defender thwarted a Stephane Sessegnon-led counter attack, and two minutes later he was at his best to head away a dangerous corner from the opposite flank. He held off defenders to win attacking set pieces, and only Olivier Giroud created more chances.

The impact of Sagna's imminent departure from the Emirates is highlighted by the list of potential replacements for the Frenchman, with Carl Jenkinson the only option remaining at the club. Toulouse full-back Serge Aurier is one possibility, but is untested at the very highest level. So too is Southampton's Calum Chambers and, with the Saints demanding £27million for Luke Shaw, it is clear that a deal would not come cheaply. The £20m probably required to tempt Everton into selling Seamus Coleman is also fairly eye-watering.

Arsenal have plenty to do in the transfer market this summer. A new striker is required, and at least one central midfielder to replace Arteta, who has been a fine servant but is not of the level required for a sustained title bid. Nor too is Matthieu Flamini. Losing Sagna adds another expensive item to an already sizeable shopping list.

One of Europe's finest right-backs of the last five years is seemingly being allowed to leave through a breakdown in communication and an initial matter of principle. It all seems so illogical - Arsenal's loss will be another club's notable gain.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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