Before anybody points out the obvious, I am well aware of the lyrical misquote. Quite deliberate, y’see.
Sounding the death knell on an Arsenal playing career is a bit like trainspotting. There are those who feverishly involve themselves in ticking the names on the squad list whilst most journey past in comfort, looking on in amazement at the tenacity and dedication people invest in such activities. Clipboards, notebooks and pens, cross-checking and cross-referencing, ticking the boxes whilst eating their curled cheese sandwiches and drinking their tea from the thermos that their mum’s bought them just in case it gets cold.
There are some obvious targets, players that even with an outbreak of measles in the squad still would not get a game and I am thinking of the likes of Arshavin and Squillaci. The latter is understandable, the former baffling as his career plummeted from the lofty heights to the depths it occupies now. Or the Arsenal bench as it is otherwise known.
Some players come into this frame unexpectedly. Bacary Sagna suffered for the first time in his Arsenal career, a torrid month recently. His form dropped to the level of inconsistency offered by his teammates but in the age where a scapegoat is required, the French international took one for the team and went for the position; his application was successful. Having returned from injury, you would think this might cut him some slack but it counted for nought. It was not an ordinary injury either, a repeat of one previously suffered. To think it would affect him in some way seems natural to me but then what do I know, I am just an uninformed supporter. The man himself is well aware of his own performance levels,
I’ve not been at my best, I am going to be honest — I am not very happy with myself. But this is football. This is a part where I need to get better and work more on my form. It has been a long time I’ve been working — since last summer, I didn’t really have a pre-season.
I need to breathe a bit but, at a high level, you don’t have time to breathe because you have a game every few days and you have to keep going. I am looking forward to coming back to my best.
Sagna has been the model of consistency since arriving at Arsenal, hitting the level that so frequently, so regularly that it becomes taken for granted. In a sense, he becomes almost undervalued as you take it for granted that he will turn in consistently high performance levels, almost metronomically. When those levels fall, the surprise turns to shock, throwing the world out of kilter.
Yet with Sagna, it should not be a surprise.
Breaking the same leg twice was bound to put doubts in his mind; as a defender his game will naturally be physical and involving tackling. Only against this backdrop, he was faced with the continued uncertainty around his own future with contract negotiations stalling with just over a season remaining on his current deal. For whatever reasons those talks never progressed to fruition, I am sure there is good reason rather than slack-jawed incompetence. Carl Jenkinson has progressed well but the sending off against Sunderland offered evidence that he still has much to learn. Sagna is a dependable and reliable player, well capable of filling the role of tutor and with his consistency levels, a good one as well.
That it is confidence more than declining abilities is underlined in his other comments,
When you are not at your best at this level, you feel it straight away on the pitch. You need a bit of everything to turn it around. When you don’t perform as you used to, when you have been injured for so long, you need your confidence back and I was a bit low recently.
I am just looking forward. I am a professional so I know it can happen but not for too long because everyone is waiting for me to perform well and I am looking forward to do it.
The Sunderland performance, out of position and in top form, will hopefully have that returning in abundance.
Throughout the travails, Sagna was still the first choice right back. For me, there was no doubt that he would be pencilled straight into the starting line-up. With Nacho Monreal on the left, Arsenal have dependable defenders in situ, rather than converted wingers. The modern full back needs attacking ability and to be willing to support forwards / midfielders but too often they are let down by their defensive capabilities. Santos was evidence of that. He seemed a likeable guy, popular with the squad but not the best defender in the world and right now, I think that is what Arsenal need. We need another Dixon and Winterburn pairing at full back; players who know their primary function is to defend and know how to do so. With that stability on the flanks, the confidence missing from the central defenders might return.
We shall see. In the meantime, normal service will be resumed at right back.