Poor old Bacary Sagna.
Imagine how he must have felt 15 minutes before kick-off on Saturday.
He has been on a urine-poor run of form; he revealed in an interview earlier this week that he knows he has been below par; he’s hoping to slowly re-establish his reputation as one of the most reliable right backs in the business and then, at about 2.45pm on match day, he finds that he’s going to be dropped into the unfamiliar role of centre back because Laurent Koscielny isn’t feeling well.
I can envisage him muttering to the stricken Kozzer: “What exactement is up wiz you, you Stan Laurel lookey-likey? Get out onto zat pitch and start playing. Zat’s anuzzer fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”
But, trooper that he is, Bacary took to the field of battle as a makeshift centre half.
I’ll admit to being a trifle worried. In some of his recent outings Sagna has been wasteful and error-prone.
If football was sex, Bacary has been the hole in the condom. We have not been practising safe footy of late and, as a result, we have been impregnated with goals far too frequently.
I’m not taking that analogy any further, because the idea of the progeny that might ensue from a carnal union between the purity of Arsenal and the venal degeneracy of, say, Chelsea, does not bear thinking about. It would be as if a unicorn was shagged by a hyena and gave birth to a strangely beautiful but irredeemably evil hynicorn. Actually, that might explain the existence of John Terry…
Anyway, I digress.
So there was Bacary, untimely thrust into the fray at the Stadium of Fight in an unfamiliar position, with only a German telegraph pole to lean on for comfort.
It could have gone horribly wrong. It didn’t. Sagna was, quite simply, wonderful at the heart of our defence.
In a game that we should have won easily (if our attackers and midfielders had bothered to put their boots on the correct feet) we ended up under siege for the last 20 minutes after Carl Jenkinson was unluckily sent off. I say unluckily because – although he should not have made the challenge that led to the red – his first booking was ridiculous. It was his first foul of the game and was slightly mistimed. It only got a yellow card because the generally poor referee felt he should even things up after booking Cattermole in the first minute.
During that final siege, all the team played well. Giroud won some great headers; Szczesny pulled off a string of remarkable saves; Ramsey filled in brilliantly at right back; Nacho showed his mettle when the chips were down; the BFG organised everything and, best of all, Sagna became the ultimate warrior. It was as if someone had stenciled “they shall not pass” on his forehead.
He completed 11 of 15 attempted clearances, won six out of 10 aerial duels and successfully made nine headed clearances from 11 attempts. Not bad for a man who stands only 5’9” tall.
It was a real return to form for a player who, until this season, was routinely referred to as our Mr Reliable.
I have been quite hard on him in recent comments and match reports. I’m not apologising for that – he’s had some real shockers. But even before Saturday’s game I was heartened to read the interview with him in which he showed great self awareness and was very honest about his struggles this year.
They say the first step to solving a problem is to recognise that there is a problem in the first place. Well, Bacary Sagna has certainly moved past Step One.
Hopefully when he moves back into his more usual role (which should be on Tuesday week against Bayern Munich) he can take forward the form and confidence he displayed against Blood-and-Thunderland.
I like Jenkinson and I hope people are not too hard on him over his red card, but for now we need Sagna as our first choice right back.
His dip in form may have been down to the long lay off after two leg breaks; it may just have been “one of those things”; who knows – it may even have been that hot wife of his keeping him up too late at night.
But the signs are good that he is over the worst and ready to get back to his finest form for the season run-in.
It is rumoured that the club is offering him only a one-year extension on his current contract. I understand the reasoning, but I wonder whether we should sugar the offer a little more (two years, for example).
Bacary showed on Saturday that he can be a great utility defender and every squad needs at least one of those.