An unsung hero from the victory over Liverpool was Bacary Sagna. To say Sagna ‘rolled back the years’ would be disrespectful for the Frenchman, who is still just 30.
Sagna’s performance highlighted a couple of things. Firstly we need to get him signed up to a new deal. Secondly, if he does not sign a deal, we need to get in a replacement.
On the first point, he has proved this season that he is still very much our best right back. Whilst at times his crossing is very much to be desired, he is still amongst the best defensive right back in the league. With only perhaps Branislav Ivanovic and Pablo Zabaleta as equals.
Whilst the likes of Kyle Walker, Glen Johnson and our own Carl Jenkinson are better going forward, Sagna does a lot more defensively to be above these kind of players. Add to the fact that Sagna is our 4th choice centre back, Bacary Sagna clearly still has an important part to play in our squad.
Personally, I would offer him a 3 year deal, knowing that for the next 2, at least, he has the ability and legs to be 1st choice centre back, and after that, could go on for many more years as a 4th choice centre back and back up full back.
If, however, Bacary Sagna fails to agree a deal, whether due to us not meeting his demands, or PSG or Monaco coming in with a big money ‘retirement’ offer which we can not compete with, we will have to look at replacements. Whilst I like Carl Jenkinson, both as a player and a person, he is not ready for 1st choice duty over a 38 game campaign.
He has the ability to be Arsenal’s back up full back for his career, mirroring what the likes of Phil Neville and Wes Brown did at Manchester United. However his positional sense and decision making is what is currently holding him back. If Sagna does leave, we will have to look at a new righ back in the summer. what are our options?
Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan)
The extremely talented full back is currently playing out of position for AC Milan. Naturally a right back, found himself playing left back for AC Milan due to the presence of Ignazio Abate. De Sciglio picked up a knee injury in pre-season which left him with a tear to the cartilage in the knee, requiring him to go under the knife. He made his come back last week against Lazio.
Brilliant and graceful in defence, he is far superior to Carl Jenkinson, who is the same age, 21. He also has pace to burn and a quality cross. If he gets clear of his injury, he will become one of the best all round right backs in world football. The big sticking point is whether he will leave AC Milan, who he has been with since 10 years old. A promise of 1st team football, in his favoured position, and a salary which AC Milan will struggle to match could put a move on the cards. If Di Sciglio decides to stay, and becomes 1st choice right back, it could mean that team mate Ignazio Abate comes available.
Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)
Borussia Dortmund are Arsenal 8 years ago. A Lot of talented players, but unable to pay the wages to keep them at the club. In 2012, the Dortmund wage bill was €80 million, compared to Bayern’s €158 million. As a comparator, Dortmund’s wage bill would be 7th highest in the Premier League, between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa. whilst they have done well over the years competing with Bayern Munich, they are now losing players every summer. Their situation is very similar to Arsenal, who competed with Manchester United in the early 2000’s, but were unable to competed for wages from 2005 onwards, leaving players to leave.
Dortmund have lost, over the last couple of years, Nuri Sahin to Madrid (2011), Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United (2012) and Mario Gotze to Bayern Munich (2013). With Robert Lewandowski already set to leave in 2014, Dortmund are a team who could well of peaked. Previously they have only lost 1 star a season, but like with Arsenal in 2011/12, they will break, and will lose 2 or 3 top players over the course of a transfer window (Arsenal sold Clichy, Nasri & Cesc that year, with Song & RVP leaving the next). For me, next summer could be that year for Dortmund. And that leads me to Lukasz Piszczek.
At 28, and with Arsenal being able to comfortable double his wages, his head would not be too hard to turn. Piszczek is in very similar mould to Sagna. More defensive then attacking, he would be a solid addition to the side. He is perhaps the best defensive right back in Europe right now. He has decent pace and is good going forward, but he would be seen as a like for like replacement for Sagna. The only concern is that he turns 29 in June, and, at just 2 years younger than Sagna, would not be a long term replacement. Would Arsenal invest £15+milllion on a short term replacement? Maybe not. Then again, we need to change our mindset. Get the best player available now, not who has potential. A cheaper option from the Bundesliga could be Atsuto Uchida.
Seamus Coleman (Everton)
If Arsenal want a proven Premier League performer, they could do a lot worse than signing Seamus Coleman from Everton. He might not get the praise and column inches that Leighton Baines gets, but he is a solid, proven performer. He might not be exceptional, he is certainly not a Dani Alves, but he is a very, very good right back.
He reminds me a lot of Gary Neville. An unsung hero. He might not raid down the right like Kyle Walker or Glen Johnsen, but when on the edge of the opponents area, he can put in a cross as good, if not better than those two. Coming into the Premier League at the ripe age of 22, he has gone on to play 90 Premier League games in just over 3 seasons (including an injury in 2011/12). He is certainly a proven performer. Whether he would have the XFactor and is capable of performing on a European stage would be questionable, but if we are looking for a reliable, Premier League proven replacement for Bacary Sagna, he is the one. If Everton are unwilling to sell, a younger option could be Nathaniel Clyne.
Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa)
Sime Vrsaljko is someone who has come onto Arsenal’s radar recently. The 21 year old only signed for Genoa this summer. The Croatian full back has drawn comparisons to Croatian captain and record cap holder, Darijo Srna. I know very little about him, as I am not a footballing hipster who claims to watch Eastern European or Scandinavian football, and with Genoa being one of the unfashionable sides in Italy, they are rarely on the screens. Few can claim to know much about the right back, but according to reports, Arsene Wenger’s scouting team are continually watching him every game. He has previously played on the right win for both Zagreb and Genoa (according to the internet!) so clearly has some ability going forward.
He averages more tackles and interceptions per game for Genoa than Carl Jenkinson or Bacary Sagna, which should not come as a surprise taking into account both teams fortunes this season. Going forward his statistics are interesting, with him completing 3 times as many crosses as Sagna or Jenkinson. His statistics indicate he is very similar to Gael Clichy in defence, preferring to intercept then tackle, and similar to Leighton Baines in attack, with a similar amount of cross’s attempted and crosses completed per game as the Everton left back. He would be someone we would know little about when signing, however we know Wenger has previously bought players off statistics (such as Sagna) so if he joins, we will know the club have done their homework. Another out of left field who could come in as an unknown quantity would be Ricardo van Rhijn of Ajax.
Sam Byram (Leeds United)
If Arsene Wenger decides Carl Jenkinson does have the talent to at least compete with a fellow right back for a 1st team place, he will end up looking for cheaper options than those above to compete with him. One of these is Sam Byram of Leeds United. The youngster has been heavily linked with Arsenal over the last couple of years, and only his preference of playing 1st team football over reserve football stopped him joining our youth set up.
Reports are all the top sides in the Premier League are keeping an eye on him. Capable of playing right back and right wing, he won Leeds United’s Player of the Year Award, Young Player of the Year Award, Players Player of the Year Award and Supporters Club Player of the Year Award in 2012/13. Powerful running from deep and brilliant delivery has led to comparisons to Gareth Bale. His signing may well raise a few issues. His price tag will be high, for someone who is not as proven as Carl Jenkinson, and a hip injury suffered in the summer is still niggling in the background. If Arsenal wish to have someone to compete with Jenkinson rather than be 1st choice ahead, they might be best off promoting within and giving Hector Berlin, who has been training with the 1st team this season, a chance.