29 June 2013

Right-back review: Jenkinson to go it alone?

Continuing a series that investigates each position, we take a look today at the right side of the defense. We've looked at keepers and center-backs so far, and there's been so much talk of bringing in players like Higuain, Rooney, and other attackers that we run the risk of neglecting the right-back position. The persistent rumors of Bacary Sagna's potential move to PSG, not to mention his injury woes, put us on shaky footing. Even for as much as I've extolled Carl Jenkinson's virtues, he's still a bit too green to anoint as the only right-back in the first team.

Using stats from whoscored.com and remembering our American high school letter-grades, let's assess the two men and their performance this year.
  • A= superb. Exceeds expectations and rarely if ever falters. Consistent excellence.
  • B= very good. Meets or exceeds expectations with occasional but moderate mistakes.
  • C= average/tolerable. Meets most expectations, falls short of a few, and commits mistakes of varying degrees of severity but rarely serious.
  • D= poor. Struggles to meet many expectations and falls short of most of them. Mistakes tend to outnumber successes and are often serious. Occasional patches of quality.
  • F= Fails to perform to any acceptable level. Frequent and serious mistakes. Moments or short stretches of decent performance are not enough to dispel serious doubts about the player's abilities.
Bacary Sagna: C+
  • whoscored rating: 7.01
  • Appearances: 25
  • Tackles/game: 2.2
  • Interceptions/game: 1.3
  • Clearances/game: 3.6
  • Team record: 16W, 6D, 3L
As much as I've showered Jenkinson with love, Bacary Sagna is one of the players who first comes to mind for me as I think about Arsenal, and I would even go so far as to say that I would love to see him finish out his career at the club. At 30 and coming off of breaking the same leg twice, one might expect a sharper drop in form; however, despite his error against Man U that led to him having to tackle van Persie in the box, his whoscored rating actually went up two-hundredths of a point. He might be losing a step but still adds grit and cunning enough to draw attention from PSG, who certainly have aspirations big enough and pockets deep enough to only want the best available. It's a bit sad then to hear that Sagna hasn't given a more full-throated denial of the PSG rumors, saying only this to L'Equipe:
I am in talks. I am not at a bad club...it is possible. I would have to see in what conditions and what would be proposed. I would not leave for anything. I don't reject anything.
Lost in translation is that phrase "I would not leave for anything," which suggests that nothing could get him to leave. Sadly, it's more accurate to translate what Sagna said as "I would not leave for just any offer" as in "I would leave for the right offer." Whether this reflects dissatisfaction with how he's been treated by the club or by its fan is open to speculation, or it could be the talk of a player who's ready for a change in the twilight of his career. His Arsenal contract runs through through June 2014, after which he might face the awkward dilemma of so many players over thirty. Would Arsenal welcome him back at that point, or should he get out while the getting is still good?

Such is my esteem for him that I want him to stay: as a mentor to (and competitor with) Jenkinson, an occasional center-back to see if he's open to it, and as an Arsenal man to the end.

Carl Jenkinson: C-
  • whoscored rating: 6.71
  • Appearances: 14
  • Tackles/game: 2.3
  • Interceptions/game: 0.6
  • Clearances/game: 2.4
  • Team record: 6W, 4D, 4L
Jenkinson started the season strong but seemed to fade down the stretch, enough so that he didn't make any appearances after 3 March. Some of his strongest performances came early in the season; his first three starts each earned a score higher than 7 from whoscored. However, aside from a strong showing against Aston Villa, he struggled later with scores as low as 5.53 against Swansea (beaten as he was by Michu). Whether this dip is due to fatigue, fragile confidence, or a re-emergence from Sagna, Jenkinson ended up watching the home-stretch from the bench. Despite that, I believe he has it in him to be our starting right-back as early as next year, if not on a full-time basis and certainly not as the only right back in the squad. If Sagna stays on one more year, this might be enough time for Jenkinson to absorb more of his experience and insight while sharpening up his own game that much further with an eye to taking over the right-back position outright by August 2014.

If Sagna does end up leaving, it is no disrespect to Jenkinson that I insist we bring in another right-back and one who is more-experienced than him. We certainly can't run the risk of having only one right-back as much as I do like Jenkinson. His speed and work-rate add a lot, but he is still much too one-footed and positionally weak. In his defense, he's just 21 and has made only 23 Prem League appearances across two seasons, but he's taken great strides, a trend that will almost certainly continue into 2013-14.

He's on record as having said "my ambition for my career is to play for this football club. I want to be good enough and make my mark here." In the short time he's spent on the field, he's more than earned a chance to make his mark next year and in years to come.