Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In Praise of Bacary Sagna

Something very unusual happened against Newcastle on Saturday. Bacary Sagna had a poor game.

His foul on Obertan gave away the free kick that led to the first equaliser.

He was beaten by that same United reject whose cross set up Marveau for the second.

He allowed Marveau time and space to conjure a cross for the third.

Sometimes when Arsenal players make a lot of mistakes in one game it really pisses me off. But not this time. Not Sagna.

Sagna is a fucking legend.

On Arseblog yesterday morning, Sagna's goal against Spurs last season was rightly highlighted as one of the standout moments of Arsenal's 2012. As Arseblog aptly states, it was a "fuck you, I'm not losing this game" header. He butted the ball past Friedel, followed the ball into the net, and carried it back to the centre circle with one businesslike fist pump on the way. One of my favourite Arsenal goals.

Myles Palmer says that, if he leaves Arsenal in the summer, Sagna will go down as the best Arsenal right back never to win a medal.

Sadly, since Arsenal stopped winning trophies, they've also stopped rewarding service (I think these two facts may be related). Off the top of my head, the club's longest-serving players are Djourou, Rosicky, Walcott, and Diaby. With due respect to those players, their longevity, such as it is, does not go hand in hand with consistency of performance or with any kind of achievement.

For every potential superstar Arsenal have had to let go, there is one loyal servant whose loyalty has not been returned. With the money lost to the stadium project, Wenger made the decision to foster a reliance on youth, but his focus on youth was too extreme. It was often evident that the raw talent the squad possessed could have done with more experience alongside.

But it seemed to be the case that as soon as a player was past his technical best, he would be let go, regardless of less measurable qualities like character and winning mentality.

Money obviously played a part in all of this. Arsenal brought in a lot in transfer fees, and saved a lot in wages. But had Arsenal been more successful over the last number of years, greater success would have brought greater profits, too. And Arsenal would have had a greater chance of success if the squad had greater experience.

I don't mean to sound overly simplistic. But you can't argue with the fact that Arsenal have had a problem in recent years with a high turnover of playing staff. Wenger seems constantly to be building, dismantling, and building again. We are stuck in a state of transition.

As finance becomes, we hope, less of an issue, I hope that the club can regain some of the things it has lost of late. The ability to contend for the finest prizes, of course. But also, more fundamentally, a sense of identity on the field.

Arsene Wenger talks about identity a lot, but watching Arsenal over the past few years, it's been hard to swallow his rhetoric. Fans want to see players who care about the club and who have served it well. They don't want to see an ever-changing parade of mercenaries and men on the lookout for pastures new.

Since coming to the club in 2007, Bacary Sagna has been a pillar of consistency. He is the best right back in the Premiership. It's a pity that, too often, he has not had team mates who shared his character, commitment, and professionalism. But he is now the closest thing to a real servant that Arsenal have.

That's why I'm disillusioned at the prospect of his moving on. Carl Jenkinson has improved immensely in a short period of time, and Sagna has suffered two broken legs. It would be very Wenger to now allow the Frenchman to move on rather than working with the board to grant him the contract he deserves.

Gary Neville had to become an embarrassment before he was jettisoned at United. Giggs and Scholes still get games. This loyalty to club legends is part of what makes Manchester United the biggest club in the world. Because those guys can educate the youngsters, teach them the dedication that breeds success.

There was a time when a player could stay at Arsenal three times as long as Sagna has. That's a huge part of what forges a club's identity. Without it: endless transition.

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