Bacary Sagna should stay and could he play at centre back next season?

Bac centre back?
Bac centre back?


It’s hard not to get lost in negativity and wallow in self pity as an Arsenal fan this week. The last 2 weeks have been as bad as they could have been and the worst part is that if we are all honest, none of us are at all surprised. Pointless then for me to cover the ground some many other observers have smothered since ‘The Mighty Arsenal’  managed a grand total of NO shots on target in about 98 minutes of football at White Hart Lane.

I will say just this on the subject before I move on to my chosen subject of the day: FACT: Tottenham with one of two exceptions do not have better players than Arsenal. FACT: Tottenham are however a better TEAM than Arsenal. Read in to that what you choose but there is so much to read into. I would choose just to dwell on the positives and suggest that if we have better players we SHOULD with the correct coaching and motivation be able to produce a better TEAM.

What is glaringly obvious is that we have major issues in the centre of our defence. If I was kind I could point to lack of communication but the reality is that for Arsenal to challenge again we need better defenders. We can suggest that Wenger does not coach the defence, or discuss the fact that Bould is or is not allowed quality time with the central pairings. We can fall back on the argument that the management have had to shuffle the pairings due to injuries and that Vermaelen is struggling with the responsibility of the captaincy. All of the above may be partially or even totally true but none of them hide the actual real truth which is that the players simply are not quite good enough to take us where we want to go. They are all bloody nice chaps and individually good defenders and all have had great days. But they are not great players and the great days are not on a consistent basis. Yes, before you come back with the Wenger line, we may not have conceded many more than other teams but it is the way we concede them that grates.

There I have said it and I feel better for it. Thankfully whilst I have affection, often misplaced of late, for all Arsenal players none of the 3 hapless souls leaving would tug too long on my sensitive heart strings. If however I was pushed and asked which one would I like stay and be given the opportunity to redeem himself it is most certainly Laurent Koscielny who I do have a soft spot for. He is the youngest of the 3 and the one who most readily fits into what I suspect is the vision of most Gooners. So what is the vision of which I speak? Well it is to see a pairing of similar make up or DNA to that which dominated opposing attacks in 2003/4. What Arsenal need for me is a big strong Sol Campbell type to head the ball away all day long together with a superb ball playing defender, our modern day Kolo Toure.

Keep the faith with Kozza
Keep the faith with Kozza

Simply put the combination of dominant strength, bravery and aggression and cultured, anticipation and vision works. The greatest central pairings of the modern era although painful to say it are quite clearly Carvalho and Terry and Ferdinand and Vidic. Unfortunately as was so clearly evidenced on Sunday we have it the wrong way round. We have a tall guy with no strength and who can’t head a ball clear or win a 50/50 in Mertesacker, combined with and aggressive ball winner, who is not tall enough to win headers and cannot read the game at all in Vermaelen!

Oh just to ensure it fails entirely the one who reads the game very well does not have any pace to cut out the danger he has anticipated and the other is quick but too stupid to read the danger in  order to use his pace to snuff it out. HAPPY DAYS!

I see Koscielny as not quite a strong as Vermaelen and not quite as good a reader of the game as Mertesacker but he has more than enough of all the attributes to be the best combination in my opinion and is younger with time to mature.

Well you 2 may laugh but you make me cry!
Well you 2 may laugh but you make me cry!

So I think it would be fair to say that the balance of the centre of the defence will be addressed this summer and I am sure we all have ideas about who would come in. I myself also have a few but that will be in another blog because today I just want to share some thoughts about whether Bacary Sagna could be our new Kolo Toure? I did throw the suggestion out there on twitter and the response was mixed but certainly the majority think he will not sign a new deal this summer. Consequently next season would see long serving Frenchman in his final year.

I am sure not many would argue with the contention that Sunderland was our best defensive performance of the season. With 10 men after Jenko’s second yellow it was backs to the wall to protect a slender lead and keep a clean sheet. Pivotal to that defensive display was Bacary Sagna who played centrally with Mertesacker that day. He read the game, made interceptions, won tackles, headers and generally threw his body in the way of anything and everything. In short he was imperious and brought the body on the line displays of Martin Keown to mind. Quite simply Sagna showed the big German up that day and the stats back this statement up clearly.  He made a third of Arsenal’s clearances out of defence that afternoon, knocking the ball away from danger 15 times. He won 6 out of 10 aerial duels even against Elliott while our giant German competed for just one. So could Bac be the Kolo to play with a new dominant centre back coming in? I guess there are two questions we need to consider. Firstly will Sagna be an Arsenal player in 2013/14 and if so could he become one of our central defenders.

In brief I will give my own view on the first part of the question and subsequently the second:

Sagna by his own high standards that saw him voted twice best right back in the league, has not has a great season but there are mitigating circumstances. It is his first season back after not one but 2 broken legs and he has made uncharacteristic mistakes. The Sagna that we used to love, bombing on and overlapping is no more. However that Sagna played in a 442 and was protected by a right midfielder. Walcott affords him little protection to say the least.

I hope that Sagna offered at leats a year’s extension for the wealth of knowledge and experience he brings to the pitch, to the dressing room and to Colney. The question is would he want more and the answer may well be yes. Wenger has already made the mistake of breaking up the Invincibles by selling players too early and not offering them proper deals into their thirties. I hope lessons have been learned and it appears from Arteta and Rosicky this may be so. However even if Sagna opts not to sign whatever the club put in  front of him, he should be retained to see out his final year. This is not an RVP situation where we stand to turn down £25 million.  it is a Clichy situation where we may miss out on a £7/8 million fee. For what Bac offer I would pass up on the cash offers. Despite the reported Sagna gripes and demands, Bac is not a trouble maker and he loves the club. We owe him the chance to play out his final season and to have one last big move. He is unlikely to break back into the French side now so we have an international player not playing internationals and this can only be good for Arsenal and I feel beneficial for Laurent Koscielny and Carl Jenkinson.

Secondly it is well worth considering if Bacary could indeed provide some experience and know how to our central defensive pairing for next season. You may consider me mad as I have seen him play at centre back in one game. One game where we had to do more defending than in many games this season I might add.

So can he play centre back week in week out or when required? I say yes and I hope to give some credence as to why I believe it so.

Initially one has to recognise the experience that comes from playing in the Premiership for so long and the air of calmness under pressure that exudes from Sagna, to be fair even when off form. With this come the discipline and concentration required and this of course means fewer errors in the main. He wins more headers per game than any player in the Arsenal team and averages 3.4 aerial wins per game, which is no mean feat for his height.

However my real conviction comes from recent and relevant precedents that just prove that players who are first and foremost quality defenders can adapt to any role across the back four. In the same way has an intelligent mature midfielder like Arteta can adapt to the DM role, similarly it should be quite possible for an intelligent experienced full back to become a centre back . Someone correctly pointed out Sergio Ramos has moved with some aplomb from full back to centre back under Mourinho at Madrid. However the 2 excellent and relevant precedents I have in mind are more pertinent still as they are from France and both peers and mentors to Bac. Both also are not just average players, both have been among the world’s top defenders in recent times in both positions.

Lilian Thuram

Thuram -Quite simply one of the best ever in both positions
Thuram -Quite simply one of the best ever in both positions

Quite simply one of the best exponents of defensive play I have ever seen. 18 years a top flight footballer in France, Italy and Spain, for Monaco, Parma, Juve and Barcelona. 14 years an International with an astonishing 142 caps making him his country’s most capped player.

Man of the Match in 2 World Cup Semi finals in 98 and 2008, a record holder with 1 6 appearances in European Championship Finals. A World Cup Winner, a World Cup Runner Up and a Euros winner and I could go on.

Thuram was a Cup Winner with Monaco in France and Parma in Italy, multi Scudetto Winner with Juventus and twice a Cup winner with them also.

Big deal you say but what is the point? Well the point is he won the World Cup, Euro’s. Cups with Monaco and Parma and his first titles with Juventus as a right back.  Capello then decided to pair him with Fabio Cannarvaro and he won 2 titles (subsequently removed due to betting scandal) as a centre back. Curiously Thuram was successfully converted from a full time RB to a fulltime CB in his 31st year and did not look back. He then was persuaded by French coach Domenech to come out of international retirement to partner Gallas, captain his country and he led them to the World Cup Final in 2006

Eric Abidal.

Abidal - Left back or centre back makes no difference, still a class act
Abidal – Left back or centre back makes no difference, still a class act

Sagna’s second countryman but way of example if Barcelona’s Eric Abidal. For the bulk of his career in France with Lyon where he won 3 consecutive Ligue 1 titles  05 to 07 ,all playing a s a left back. He then moved to Barcelona where he had a year off winning the league before resuming with another 3 consecutively in Spain.

Despite his well publicised health battles Abidal has starred for Barca both as a left back, one of 3 centre backs and as one of a pair of central defenders. He is a complete defender and fills any position on the left of the defence with ease.

For France he began as a regular left back in 2004 and in the 2006 World Cup played alongside Thuram still on the left but by the 2008 Euros he was regularly the left centre back in the finals. This continued on to the finals held in S Africa in 2010.

So another French footballer able to hold down a place in his national side, at centre back or left back, because he is just a quality defender who reads the game. In fact in August 2007 when Sagan made his debut for France coming on at right back Eric Abidal was playing at centre back, despite regularly still playing left back for his club.


So in conclusion do I think Sagan could or will be one of our first choice centre backs next season? Probably not. Do I think he is capable of playing there for Arsenal is called upon on an ad hoc basis on with regularity? Yes I do. Would I like to see Bacary Sagna in our 1st team squad in August, new contract or not? Yes I would.

I would like to see a brand new strong centre back in the mould of Adams, Keown or Campbell bought in June/July and able to have a full pre-season with Laurent Koscielny but I see Sagna as an alternative or understudy to Kozza.

It may never happen but many of the best centre backs in the game have their finest years in their early 30s and there is absolutely no reason why Sagna could not make that conversion with consummate ease. Certainly our current manager believes so and told Arsenal Player after the game at the City of Lights:

Wenger was impressed by the defender’s display, and is happy to have inherited another option at the back.

“I always thought he could play there one day,” he told Arsenal Player.

“We pushed him in this position in training. What he showed in training was encouraging. He had no preparation. He was told 10 minutes before the start of the game and he dealt very well with that situation, so that’s very positive.”

One final point is this. I have been worried about Carl Jenkinson but he was easily our best player against the old enemy on Sunday and given his is a Gooner I would no longer feel that is we keep Bac this is an arena we need to spend money.

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  1. This is all well & good, but Sagna is off next season so I don’t know why there is emphasis on where he plays next year. Good luck to him, he’s provided 6/7 years solid service. As a side note, agree on Jenkinson, let him play till the end of the season, given Wenger’s recent record, god knows of he’ll even buy another RB but in the meanwhile Jenkinson needs to feel ready looking to next season

  2. As usual great read. I’ve been saying this since the Sunderland game, he looked comfortable in the role, and this seems like a logical progression for him and the club.

  3. why the hell not, i say…
    the man is a defender, he prefers to defend, he seems to grow when he comes away with a ball after a bit of a scrap…
    he can read the game well, and has been cursed that he is doing the jobs of 2 by having Theo in front of him, which you are oneof the few to point out… usually everyone pointed to Arshavin not helping out on the left-side..
    Sagna’s getting on in years, but that doesn’t mean he’s nearly finished, no where near, but it’s obvious now that when he does make a lung-busting runs forward he 1) hasnt got the energy to get back-trots back, 2) he hasn’t got the energy to lift his legs to cross the ball..
    So in the centre of defence, he can release the ball to the midfielders, and recover immediately, short bursts only to win the ball back and relax…
    Personally i think it would be a great move for him, for his, and for prolonging his career, provided thats what he wants, cos it could be possible that he’s fallen out of love with the game, after his injuries, the time off, the time to consider life, maybe he wants one big contract, and disappear into the distance..
    Anyhoooo i ramble, but it;s good to see some varied thinking Dave, not just roaring for the £30m Hummels, who i’ve been told isn’t all that he’s cracked up to be, does the eye-catching stuff really well, passing and scoring, but his defending alledgedly is dodgy, sound familiar..

  4. Bac’s performance at centre half v Sunderland came as a pleasant surprise, especially as we had our backs to the wall 2nd half.
    I do hope he stays with us for another season, even if he doesn’t sign a new contract, and sees out his current one. He can still do a job as Jenks improves (further) and fill in at CB if need be.
    Defensive issues are definitely something that needs addressing in the summer; I know you’ve lost faith in the BFG, but for me it’s TV5 who’s becoming a liability at the back & it wouldn’t come as a shock if he moved on before next season. I also think our midfield should be doing more to protect the back four.
    Great write up as usual, and fingers crossed Sagna will still be with us next term.

  5. A good post as always and am happy for ur admission on the lack of expected quality in the CDF. The players involved haven’t helped their case for a while now. Statistically, Sagna will be a perfect fit for that role and his last performance is a testament to that fact. I can’t imagine how our best DF for last season has been constantly overlooked despite the obvious weakness in the CDF. This season would’ve offered Koscielny the chance to consolidate on last season’s performance. I can’t forget his diving clearance against Sturridge when we played Chelsea. Hopefully, Wenger will be able to make the necessary decision. A good manager is as good as the quality of players he has. So, a good defence is as good as the quality of available individual defenders. Huge changes are expected. After writing on the MF last week, am looking forward to what u will be bringing to us in our attact.

  6. To me this makes perfect sense.
    Left to me I would start a better RB than Jenks (Jenks on bench), Sagna as CB, Koscielny and Gibbs. Four fast, pacy good defenders. Arsenal is about speed. So therefore while Mertesacker’s ‘calmness’ is therapeutic, I find it slowing down our defence. Plus it puts pressure on his partners on either side to cover more ground.

    If we’re playing Stoke or whichever team crouch goes to next, sure bring on Mertesacker. But start with 4 solid, no-nonsense and I repeat ‘fast’ defenders. The speed at the back will boost momentum of the build-up play and guess what, we can then afford to have a high line we couldn’t have all season.

    So yeah, its a 2 thumbs up from me for Sagna as CB. Don’t need any further proof than Sunderland game.

  7. One thing I think Bac would be good at is going up for corners. He is very good with head. Pers should stay back to allow it. very slow getting back.

  8. The emergence, twice now, of Aaron Ramsey as a substitute right back means that moving Sagna over to centreback can be done, if he can be re-signed, and I think he will be. He seems more sensible (and more willing to listen to his London-loving wife) than was Robin van Rat. (It would also move Ramsey out of the midfield role that the Wenger Outers think Le Boss relies too much on him for, but that’s a whole other issue.)

    Two problems with this piece. One is that Mertesacker is sold short here. He can’t win headers? Refresh my memory on how Arsenal’s only goal against Tottenham was scored. You don’t win 86 caps as a defender for Germany by age 28 1/2 by not being good enough for Arsenal.

    The other is the statements that Arsenal have better players than Tottenham, but that Tottenham are a better team. When you use a word like “better,” you’re talking about something that is subjective, not objective. Therefore, it is NOT a fact, it is an opinion. You can certainly use facts to support the opinion, but a fact is a statement that can be proven true or false; an opinion can only be agreed with, or not. And no matter how many people agree with the opinion, it is still not a fact.

    That said, I still don’t think Tottenham were the better team on Sunday. They took advantage of 2 Arsenal mistakes and some horrible refereeing to win. (Seriously, they were fouling at a Stoke rate, including clobbering Cazorla, making it 11 vs. 10 and thus making the 2nd goal possible.)

    1. Mike I think we both know I was talking about defensive headers and Per has among the worst stats of an CB in the league. Even at the other end in close to 2 seasons he has one headed goal. Sunday’s was going wide before the deflection. Yes he has 80 plus caps for Germany as does Emile Heskey for England and never wanted him at Arsenal to be fair. By you logic I assume in 1990/91 while David and Thomas took Arsenal to a close to perfect season thaat Wise and Carlton Palmer were better as they were England’s pairing.
      Thanks for taking the tie to comment and glad you see sense at least in the main thrust of the article.

      1. Dave, you and I will always disagree on Mertesacker but this stat about him being the worst at defensive headers is completely wrong. If he’s the worst at these aerial duels then according to official stats from here — – Jagielka, Nastasic, Vidic, Agger, Shawcriss Vertonghen, Kompany, Skrtel, David Luiz are all even worse than him…the only ones better are Distin, Huth, Cahill and McAuley

        I think you’re too harsh on Mertesacker and your point about pace is simply incorrect because the reading of the game leads to better positioning and means you don’t need to be running after the ball at pace…as long as your partner doesn’t screw up (and so if you’re getting after Mertesacker because his partner screws up, its like saying someone says your entire blog is terrible because a guest post was received badly)

        As for Sagna being a CB…it is entirely possible but not at the expense of Mertesacker…and it depends entirely on him wanting to stay and I hope he does, at least until the end of his contract but recent rumours seem to suggest that is unlikely

      2. Adi I have watched this team for close to 40 years and Mertesacker would not make my top 10 centre backs. By the way if you can get off your high horse for a second you might realise an opinion cannot be wrong. It can be different to yours but that does not make it wrong. I disagree with virtually everything that appears on your blog but that does not make you wrong.

        Stats are fine and I use them of course but my own eyes rather than an index will tell me that Per is very slow and does not win enough key headers where they actually count, in the penalty area.

        Odd that a few months back you described my opinions thus “most well thought out tactical discussions of anyone I’ve seen on here – The Gaffer described me in one word.

        I guess the above only applied when I agreed with your own stance. Shame

      3. Dave, I haven’t watched the Arsenal for as long as you have, maybe about 25 years less than you have and I don’t mean any disrespect in that regard. What I pointed out as wrong was you making a factual declaration ABOUT STATS (you can read it in your own comment above) and I presented stats to counter that. I simply countered your own declaration “he has among the worst stats of any CB in the league” with stats proving that declaration factually wrong.

        If it is indeed your opinion that despite winning more aerial duels than the likes of Vidic and Vertonghen, then can I extend that opinion and say that those two are worse in the box? You told me once yourself that fans get more critical about what they see in front of them and prop others up because they don’t watch others as much, so could that same argument apply here?

        As for Per being very slow, like I’ve said before, doesn’t actually matter in a CB. I have seen the likes of Adams and Bould and they weren’t road runners by any stretch of the imagination.

        I indeed described your opinions as well thought out tactically especially when you correctly predicted a couple of Arsene’s moves and made the argument for Arteta as DM (I don’t agree with your changed opinion on that). However, you know as well as I do that I have always opposed you on your frequent suggestion to revert more to a pure 4-4-2 and I have always opposed you on Mertesacker. And as for disagreeing with you and not sharing that same opinion after you reached your breaking point, I know you think it is ok to think the Gaffer can be wrong

      4. Just read my blog a few times and cannot find the bit where I say Mertesacker has amongst the worse stats in the league. I could be wrong but I don’t think I have said that. I have no idea what Per’s stats are for headed clearances and would not know where to find it old chum. I know aerial duals and clearances are available but as for which are headed clearances I have no idea.

        I said this “We have a tall guy with no strength and who can’t head a ball clear” and did not state it to be a FACT but it is my opinion based on watching week in week out.

        Also I have not compared him to ant players I don’t watch so I have no idea what you are saying the either.

        It is my opinion that Per is a good player but we need better. The rest of the stuff I can assume you have read in another blog.

  9. Thank God ur opinion on this one doesn’t count. Its even funny that wenger,the same man who doesn’t know anything about defending,selects sagna for CB and suddenly everyone ‘has been saying it for long’. If he doesn’t do well another day,u guys will call for wenger’s head for playing a RB at CB. You can never please arsenal fans. Shame

  10. we know class is permanent and Sagna is class. My answer to both questions are Yes: I want him to stay beyond next season and Be our option for centre back position.

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