(This post originally appeared on Sabotage Times)
When Bacary Sagna’s Arsenal contract expires at the end of the season, he’ll have no shortage of offers. Premier League rivals Manchester City and Chelsea have been linked, as have PSG, Galatasaray and Inter Milan on the continent. Despite the current impasse in negotiations, Arsenal are on the brink of winning major honours again, and can’t afford to let such a vital player leave.
At 31, this will likely be the last big contract of his playing career and he’s understandably after a big payday. The Frenchman, who stayed aboard when all around jumped ship, hasn’t had a pay rise at Arsenal since 2008. Arsene Wenger has generally eased players out when they reach their thirties, but Sagna deserves to be an exception.
He has consistently been the Premier League’s best right-back in his time at the club. His athleticism, the fact he’s only lost about three headers in his life, and his experience make him almost irreplaceable. He might not catch the eye with attacking raids like Dani Alves or pre-Bale Maicon, but he’ll never let you down. How often have individual errors cost Arsenal? And yet, how many times have you thought: “Sagna should have done better there?” Exactly.
There were concerns last year that he was past it, that breaking the same leg twice in eight months had taken too much out of him, but he’s back to his best this season and some aspects of his game have even improved. Death, taxes, and Sagna crosses not clearing the first man used to be life’s certainties, but his deliveries from the right wing are now a constant threat to opposition defences.
He probably came to Arsenal expecting to win trophies, but as star players left and the team was dismantled again and again, it’s not really happened. This year’s FA Cup should be his first medal (I’m still scarred by the 2011 Carling Cup Final) since joining the club, but fans will hope it doesn’t mark the end of his time in North London.
It’s not a surprise that Arsenal’s best season in years comes when the club has a settled side. For once, they were able to build on the squad they had instead of replacing world-class talents with unproven youngsters. If Sagna does go, who will Wojciech Szczesny direct his goal-kicks at? Will Theo Walcott get away with not defending if Sagna hasn’t got his back? Even if it means paying slightly over the odds, he’s worth it (though those blonde braids are a very different story).
Any replacement would be a step-down and inevitably cost more than the wage increase Sagna is after. There isn’t an internal solution either – Carl Jenkinson obviously loves the club but still plays like he’s just won a kickabout with the first team and Hector Bellerin isn’t ready to step up yet.
Just remember that unstoppable header against Spurs, or the time he filled in at centre-back against Sunderland and kept them out almost singlehandedly, or when he heroically blanked Emmanuel Adebayor. Bacary Sagna should be remembered as an Arsenal legend and the club has to do everything it can to keep him.