29 April 2013

In Defense of Bacary Sagna

There's been an interesting dichotomy in the analysis of our 1-1 draw with Man U. On one hand, most of us are satisfied with the draw. On the other, there's been a fair amount of abuse heaped on Bacary Sagna for the sequence that led to van Persie's goal.  Let's be honestit was god-awful and gruesome from start to finish. However, I think Sagna's critics are being too harsh on the man. He has, after all, been quite hard on himself, in public and almost certainly in private. Whatever invective has rained down on his shoulders since the 43rd minute of Sunday's game is no match for the torrent of self-vituperation Sagna has since subjected himself to. I've come to Sagna's aid in the past, not that he's asked for it or needed it from the likes of me, and I'll gladly do it again.

Via whoscored.com, "no significant weaknesses." Just sayin'.
First, some numbers: according to whoscored.com, Sagna has been one of our most consistent performers of the last few years, earning an overall score of 6.89 in 2009-10, 7.04 in 2010-11, 6.99 in 2011-12, and a 7.01 so far in 2012-13. Beyond these numbers, though, he embodies to me a lot of Arsenal's personality and, yes, that Arsenal DNA. Ever since coming over in 2003, he's impressed me with his determination, toughness, and skill, not to mention the charisma-upgrade (if not skill, I know...) he brought with him in taking the #3, Ashley Cole's old number. The man takes to the pitch and presses forward and tracks back with the best of him, and if he lacks the attacking of Glen Johnson or the tackling of Pablo Zabaleta, I still count him among the best right-backs in the Prem. You might think me crazy, and you might just be right.

As to that horrific sequence on Sunday, it's not as if Sagna was playing one-on-one with van Persie. After the bad pass, Mertesacker was slow to respond (or maybe just slow, period), tracking back into the box while van Persie collected the ball at the corner of the box. Whatever Sagna was up to, letting a striker of van Persie's quality charge forward unescorted is inexcusable. Someone should be on his hip at all times. If Mertesacker determined that he could not beat van Persie to the ball itself, he should have at least considered moving over to cut off van Persie's angle. Even from 10 feet away, he'd force van Persie to take a much-trickier shot. I realize that a lot of this is hindsight, but it still matters. Without another teammate tracking van Persie's every move, Sagna was forced to chase him down from a stand-still into the box. The fact that he got there in time to even be capable of a foul is impressive.

Next, in the absence of an alternate-reality device of some kind, we're left blaming Sagna for allowing Man U to score its only goal. However, the second half saw Man U create plenty of chances. Maybe they were energized after leveling the score; maybe we were deflated. In either case, we should have come out of halftime like crazed madmen hell-bent on scoring. Instead, we failed to do much except watch Man U barrel down our left side time and again only to fling crosses harmlessly across the mouth of the goal. If just one of these had been finished, or if one of van Persie's other countless chances had gone in, or if Giggs had done better on his one glorious chance, Sagna's gaffe wouldn't have mattered. That's quite a few if's to toss off, I know. My point is this: for a home-team scrambling for three points to score only once signals a lack of purpose. To therefore single out Sagna for conceding a goal without likewise condemning others for failing to generate chances, if not goals, is a bit myopic.

The man has come back from breaking the same leg twice inside of eight months without dramatically losing form. To see him then thrown under the bus for a few seconds of madness is distressing. I do like Carl Jenkinson and believe he has a bright future with us, but I'm not quite ready to bid Sagna farewell. PSG and Monaco want him? Huh. This can only mean that he's still held in high esteem. He's no Arshavin (sorry, Andrei). Let's make them wait one more year. I pray that he stays at least one more year to get 200 appearances with the club (he's at 174 at the moment). He deserves to join those ranks, and he deserves a chance to go out with more of a bang then a whimper, I'll say that much.