By Chris Jenkins (@ByChrisJenkins)
“ALL WE NEED IS … BAC-A-RY SAG-NA!”
That chant, to the tune of Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga,” rang out at Milwaukee’s Higbury Pub during Arsenal’s season-opening loss to Aston Villa.
And even if the end result of that match wasn’t much good, the sentiment behind the chant was sound: If anybody deserves to be serenaded during this period of instability for the club, it’s the veteran right back.
I mean, veteran center back — at least this week, anyway.
Sagna broke his leg twice in 2011-12, only to bounce back and reclaim his place last season. And while his form was questioned at times, with good reason, the golden-braided French international started the last nine matches in the 10-match unbeaten streak that helped the Gunners secure a fourth-place finish.
Then came the offseason, with alternating reports that Sagna, now 30, would either be sold to another team or signed to a contract extension. As it turns out, neither of those things happened, so Sagna is playing out the final season of his current deal.
Without a new deal to tie him down, Sagna could leave on a free transfer at the end of the season. But if he feels like a lame duck, or in any way let down by not getting a new deal, he certainly isn’t playing that way.
Just the opposite, he’s doing whatever has been asked of him and playing through injuries. After taking a nasty, neck-snapping tumble in the season opener against Villa, he was ready to play a few days later.
Arsenal starts the season in an odd state of limbo, having cleared out a wide range of young and underperforming players to get their contracts off the books. At the same time, they have yet to buy replacements, leaving the current squad remarkably thin.
So with Thomas Vermaelen already out injured, Arsenal had to improvise once Laurent Koscielny took a brutal high boot to the head in Wednesday’s Champions League playoff victory at Fenerbahce. With no backup central defender to turn to — again, why was Ignasi Miquel sent out on loan? — Arsene Wenger had to ask Sagna to play centrally.
Koscielny’s going to be fine, according to reports. But for Sunday’s match against Fulham, there’s another problem: Koscielny is suspended after being sent off in the season opener against Villa. Again, with nobody else to turn to, Wenger must ask Sagna to play out of position.
According to a story in the London Daily Mirror this week, Sagna says he’s willing to do anything for the team; he even joked that “first of all, you run less” when playing centrally.
The position is not a natural fit for Sagna, who is only 5-foot-9. But his veteran guile and positional awareness should be enough to get Arsenal through a difficult time — a period that hopefully will end with the arrival of reinforcements through the transfer market.
Once that happens, Sanga can go back to doing what he does best: Cutting off chances and winning the ball back on his side of the field, starting the counterattack and serving as a sure-footed critical cog when the Gunners are in possession.
So while it’s rare for Wenger to offer a multi-year contract to a player who’s on the wrong side of 30, I offer this: Sagna’s combination of skill and unselfish effort just might make him indispensible.