Tag Archives: Bacary Sagna

Arsenal legend joins Man City rivals in touting Arteta's skill

They trust the process even if they’re not a part of it. One is an Arsenal legend; the other is his one-time teammate and current rival who looks to stand in the way of that process. Between them, the trust and respect afforded to Mikel Arteta seems to grow, ableit grudgingly, by the day. At some point, even knobs like Gary Neville. Alan Shearer, Dermot Gallagher are going to have to take their heads out of the sand or whicher other location they’ve stuck them and admit that Arteta seems to know what he’s doing. It’s probably too much to expect that we can keep up this pace, but sharper minds than me (long list, that) are willing to testify, so let’s let them do that.

First, Bacary Sagna share the following in an interwith with the website Midnite:

I could tell Mikel Arteta was going to be a great manager when I played with him. When I used to around his house to watch football, a game like El Clasico, the first thing he would point out is ‘They’re playing 5-2-3″ and would always be really into the games he watched and talked about the tactics. It’s a passion for Arteta, like Pep Guardiola. They both eat, drink, and live for football. Arteta was a natural leader at Arsenal.

Arteta and Patrice Evra were the best captains I have played with. They had that vibe and wordsd that would make you want to become a better player and motivate you. In difficult situations, they find the words that we have to do better and keep improving. They had that special personality that not everyone had.

Okay, so we’ll set aside the reference to Evra. Sagna played for two of the best managers in the history of the game. His yardstick for leadership and football management is Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola. To be willing to go on record saying that he knew that Arteta was going to be a great manager is therefore coming from experience and insight.

Not to be outdone, Sagna’s former teammate and our current rival Bernardo Silva spoke to Football Daily and talked about Arsenal’s progress. Here are his word:

Arsenal is not a surprise to me…because I know very well the manager. I know how good he is and how well he understands the game and how much he demands to his players because he was with us and he demanded the same thing from us, and [it’s a] very young team, very hungry and especially very, very, very good, and then you have players who have the winning mentality like Gabi and Zinchenko and it becomes a very dangerous side.

It’s rare that you’ll see a player speak so respectfully and affectionately about a rival club’s manager, especially one as young as Arteta. To command that kind of respect from players you’re not much older than (Arteta’s only eleven months Sagna’s senior) suggests that there is in fact something special in this manager. That’s not the same as saying Arteta’s a good or even great manager…yet. However, he’s a heck of a lot further along on his journey than the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, to name just two  of his contemporaries.

Speaking of contemporaries, we can’t leave Guardiola out of this. Now, of course, any praise he bestows on Arteta is probably intended to reflect back on Guardiola, the mentor basking in the brightening aura cast by his protégé.  Here’s Guardiola testifying: 

They are going to do 100 or more than 100 points Arsenal, if they continue in that way – we won’t catch them so we will have to be almost perfect. 

Earlier in the season, he spoke more directly about Arteta: 

He was taught since he was born. Maybe I learned more off him than he did off me when we worked together. Arsenal have the work ethic, the talent, the support…People see how he works every day, the commitment…We have made an incredible season, they have been better. We want to be there as close as possible to them, the season is so long. Many things will happen, many tough games.

I’ll be honest. When Arteta was hired, I thought he would try to instill Guardiola’s tactics without the world-class players Guardiola’s tactics depend on, and this would lead to colossal failures. While there are elements borrowed and similarities present, Arteta has shown great tactical flexbiliity as he’s assembled a squad full of young, hungry, determined players. A few of them are on their way to becoming world-class, but we’re still far from the kind of squad Guardiola has built his resumé on.

In other words, much like this squad, Arteta is still growing, learning, evolving. In time, he may even achieve enough to win over Gary and Alan and Dermot, maybe enough to win over the persistent (which is a polite way to describe them) #ArtetaOut crowd. Time will tell…

Poor Pep clutches his pearls as Arteta considers poaching more players…

Okay, so it’s an unsourced report, but Football Insider claims that “it is now believed that Guardiola’s side will reject any potential further offers from Arsenal for players who would go straight into their team.” It has all of the outward appearances of being complete common sense dressed up as a scoop, but it does conjure up some delicious images of Guardiola furrowing his brow as he wonders who among his current squad see the playing time their former teammates are getting at Arsenal and might start to feel a bit restless at being accessories rather than actual players. Whatever Guardiola and others at Man City have or haven’t said, it would be more than a bit rich for either to whinge about Arsenal poaching their players.

This is, after all, the club that nicked Adebayor, Kolo Touré, Nasri, Clichy, and Sagna from us in recent years (although it must be admitted that Sagna was essentially encouraged to leave in order to get a chance at a trophy before he retired). If it’s Pep himself who’s got his knickers in a twist after condoning the sales of Jesus and Zinchenko and losing Arteta to boot, I’ll add a few more names to the list: Cesc Fabregas, Ale Hleb, Thierry Henry, Alex Song. Throw in a keeper and another defender, and you’d have a pretty good “poached from Arsenal by Man City and/or Pep” XI.

Now, there haven’t been any rumours of City players moving to Arsenal, but the transfer window is only eight weeks away. There’s all sorts of rumours that can come out between now and then. Instead, then, I suspect that Pep might be more worked up by another issue entirely: his protégé is doing better at Arsenal than he himself is at Man City—and doing so on a fraction of the amount Pep’s spent on his squad and without the stable of world-class players. Since his arrival at Man City, Pep has spent £1.1 billion on new players, reinforcing a squad that already boasted the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Raheem Sterling, and Sergio Agüero, to name just a few. He currently has on his bench the likes of John Stones, Riyad Mahrez, and Jack Grealish, rotating others such Phil Foden in and out. Most of these lads would walk into the starting lineup of just about every club in the Prem, such is the depth Pep has at his disposal.

To add another layer, Pep’s tactics really only work when he has world-class players at every position. By contrast, Arteta is implementing similar tactics not only on the cheap but with young, largely unproven players, which begs certain uncomfortable questions about Pep. Do his tactics work because they’re good tactics or because he has such high-quality players to implement them? It’s probably a little of both, but it’s worth pointing out that Arteta’s tactics are working—so far, at least—because he’s training up young players to play those tactics. 

When Arteta came in, I worried that he would try to instill Pep’s tactics with players who were clearly not capable of playing to that level. Instead, Arteta has shown himself to be tactically flexible, adapting his tactics to the players he has available as well as to the opponent we have to face. It’s not for nothing that we beat Man City and then Chelsea to win the 2020 FA Cup despite having a squad that would make the Island of Misfit Toys suffer pangs of sympathy—nay, pity. Yes, there has been some heavy investment to rebuild this squad, but it’s only a fraction of what Pep has spent, and Arteta has basically replaced every member of the XI he inherited. 

It must get under Pep’s skin to see Arteta outclassing him with so few established world-class players. At the rate this young squad is developing, we won’t really need to poach anyone else from Man City (although I’m sure we each covet a few here and there…). Maybe what really has Pep  furrowing his brow is the hair. It’s gotta be the hair.

Hey, on a last note, if you’re still here, please let me know if the new ads are too much of a distraction. I’ve changed some settings but don’t want to put people off with too many ads. 

Man City's players dropping like flies to avoid the Emirates…

Ahead of Saturday’s visit from Man City, it seems that Citizens left and right are finding excuses to avoid the fray. Usually, players manufacture their injuries to avoid international friendlies; this time through, however, it seems that the mighty Mancs might be suffering a bit of pre-match malaise as player after player has picked up an unfortunate knock or niggle, relegating them to observer’s status, rather than reprise the thumping they absorbed in the Community Shield. As with that match, Citeh may field an XI full of back-benchers, this time by necessity rather than by choice. So it goes…

“Quick, lads! Look like you’ve been a supporter for more than a few years!”

At first, the news trickled in. A few of those back-benchers found their way out of town via loans. Álvaro Negredo made his way back to Spain, getting a loan-deal to Valencia. No bigs, as he was one of those impulse-buys we’ve come to expect from Citeh. Next, however, it was squad-stalwart Micah Richards, the longest-serving (by my reckoning) member, having debuted away to Arsenal way back in October 2005. Despite having racked up 245 appearances in the interim, Richards has joined Serie A’s Fiorentina on a season-long loan. It appears that, rather than face us, he’s abandoned ship.

Casting further back into the past, we have Costel Pantilimon joining Sunderland on a free transfer, where he can learn from no less than Vito Mannone. Further down the pecking order, perhaps, we have Javi Garcia going to the fertile footballing grounds that are found at Zenit-St. Petersburg; Joleon Lescott joining West Brom on a free (!), and Gareth Barry achieving ‘elder-statesman’s’ status at Everton.

And it’s not just the loans. More recently, “injuries” have cropped up. We Gooners know full-well, of course, what it means to lose players to niggles and knocks. It’s part and parcel of who we are. However, as referenced above, even Gooners could look to interlullian injuries as a bit of gamesmanship: “Golly, sir. I know we have a pointless friendly in East Backwaterianton, involving a 12-hour flight with interminable delays and seats that just don’t recline far enough, whose result has no bearing on my position for club or country, but I just can’t shake this soreness in my, um, deviated septum, so…” However, there’s a plethora of such injuries incurred during the interlull that begs questions. Zabaleta suffered something in Argentina’s (eventual) triumph over Germany last week. Kompany almost missed Belgium’s “crucial” friendly against Australia. Jovetić, once-coveted in these very environs,  seems to have strained his hamstring while training with Montenegro. As such, the availability of all three is in doubt.

Even for a squad as deep as Citeh’s, other questions persist. Will Agüero feature? What of Džeko? Neither of them is fully fit. One has to wonder, then, if the injuries that Citeh have suffered are physical or existential in nature. Having glutted themselves on transfers-in and trophies, have they finally reached a point of satiety that will see their squad settle for medicrioty? Why battle, after all, when all of your material needs are met? That’s the thing about wild roller-coaster rides, such as the one that Citeh have enjoyed over the last five years or so. The thrill-seeking is all but gone. What’s left to accomplish (other than a Champions League drive that lasts past the round of 16)?

To their credit, I suppose, none of the former Gunners who have made his way to the Etihad have begged off—so far, Clichy, Nasri, and Sagna have laid low rather than drawing attention to themselves. Then again, the absences of such illustrious teammates will thrust them and others front-and-center. Can they handle the pressure of taking to the pitch to represent a club whose path to success diverges so wildly from the path that Arsenal have taken?

Just what, if anything, did Arsenal's defeat of Man City mean? Anything at all?

On its face, winning the Community Shield may not mean much. Even for a match that pits the Prem champion against the FA Cup winners, there’s little to be taken away from it, even less in a World Cup year. However, for as many players as City were missing, there’s still something to be said for how well we played—even a depleted City side is superior to all but a handful of other Prem sides, and to defeat them 3-0 signifies something. Just how much it signifies, of course, remains to be seen.

One of the more-intriguing sideshows to the main event would be the former Gunners on display—Clichy and Nasri, of course, but perhaps also Sagna. Only two would feature, but there was enough spectacle to keep us all satisfied. Nasri floundered throughout his first-half performance, getting subbed off for Silva (a move that seemed to give City a bit more urgency and cohesion). He was booed loudly during the introductions, and I must say, I don’t dislike the guy for leaving Arsenal so much as I dislike him for who he seems to be: petulant. Self-centered in extremis. Thin-skinned. And so on. So he fizzled a bit despite having a solid chance at denying Arsenal a bit of silverware and proving his critics (namely me) wrong. Karma.

More recently, of course, Bacary Sagna found his way to City and promptly fell into his role of watching someone else play right-back (in this case of irony, it was Clichy). One of the pics of the night has to be the one you see here, in which Sagna appears to feel like he’s made a huge mistake. Maybe yes, maybe no. In either case, it’s fun to contemplate. Sagna may have left, but he got his trophy and leaves gracefully enough to keep the gloating to a minimum.

However, the real story comes from how our squad performed. We did pretty well in going up against an XI that as many as 15 other Prem clubs would love to have, one worth some £172m in transfer-fees alone, by my reckoning. Against this assortment of players, we fielded our own hodge-podge, including three new signings and Sanogo playing in an odd 4-1-4-1 formation. Chambers and Debuchy sparkled, earning “special congratulations” from Arsène in his post-match comments. In fact, were it not for Ramsey’s man-of-the-match performance, we might be toasting one or both defenders for their play. Suffering a bit by contrast was Alexis, who offered glimpses of potential but didn’t quite deliver.  He did deliver an incisive pass forward to Sanogo, which eventually led to Ramsey’s goal. Minutes later, Sanogo returned the favor, sending him in behind the defense only for Caballero to beat Alexis to the ball. As Arsène would later put it, Alexis looked “very lively but not completely ready yet”. Pellegrini chimed in as well, saying that “he’s a top player…he will be a great player for Arsenal.”

Even with so many new players in the starting line-up (Chambers, Debuchy, Alexis, Sanogo), there was enough chemistry and understanding to dominate one of the best and most-expensive squads in the world. That does mean something, even if that expensive squad decided not to dedicate itself to the task at hand. It’s a funny thing, winning that much, so suddenly. It placates. It satiates. It leaves a person complacent. Again, it was “just” the Community Shield, but one does have to wonder just how much fire is in that squad’s belly. They have the talent to win the Prem. Do they have the hunger?

Even without Agüero or Kompany (whom City went without for long stretches while winning the Prem anyway) and without Fernandinho or Zabaleta, this was still a formidable City side. This result may not mean much, but it does lay down a marker. If that doesn’t mean much yet, we’ll get a bit more of a glimpse just over a month from now when City pay us a visit: 13 September. Mark your calendars.

Cazorla's considering Atleti? Is he the canary in the coal mine?

A month to the day, we won the FA Cup to bring to an end the hated trophy drought, an apt and glorious bookend to having won the FA Cup nine years prior; let this launch a parallel period afterward that sees future seasons unfold towards a period similar to the beginning of Arsène’s tenure. It could be like one of those mirror-images: period of glory capped with FA Cup win, drought in the middle, FA Cup win launches period of glory. That could work. However, even before the dust has settled, it seems we’re seeing an exodus of players far more alarming than last summer’s, when we could look on with smug satisfaction as the Chamakhs and Squillacis were sent packing. This time through, though, there are sadder partings and alarming rumors, which together threaten to jeopardize the goodwill and momentum generated by winning that FA Cup.

First was the departure of Lukasz Fabianski, which we would attribute to his wanting first-team action. No real alarm bells there. It was long rumored, even anticipated, and need not upset the apple cart. Then came the news that we had passed on Fàbregas, seeing him as superfluous after Özil’s arrival. Emotionally unsettling, to be sure, but on a rational level, sensible. Midfield’s packed, after all. Next was the departure of Sagna to Man City, unsettling emotionally and strategically. Then came rumored news that Thomas Vermaelen, putative captain, had agreed to terms with Man U. While shocking and, ultimately, spurious (for now), alarm bells are starting to ring. It’s one thing to go through a season with three fit center-backs; it’s quite another to try with only two—and without Djourou to recall from loan, all the more risky. The latest story, complete with quotes from the man himself, involve Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s Player of the Season for 2012-13, moving to Atlético. Now, we have a key starter and contributor speaking evasively of his future with Arsenal:

When the World Cup is over, I’ll start thinking about my situation. I don’t want to be thinking about it right now and I’ve told my agents not to tell me anything if an offer comes in. But I know a few of the Atlético players—Godin, Juanfran—and I know the side well from when I was playing the Spanish league. But until the tournament is over, I won’t know if the rumours are true or not.

That’s hardly a threat to leave, but it’s well short of a vow to say. I know it’s the silly season and all, but it’s a bit unnerving to think that, instead of needing “just” a striker and perhaps a burlier holding midfielder, we now need a back-up keeper, a right-back, a center-back if not two, and, ironically, an attacking midfielder. How would it feel to have passed on Fàbregas because he’s extraneous and then lose Cazorla? Yes, Cazorla as listed as playing wide left, but, truth be told, he’s the narrowest of wide-men we’ve had in a while. It’s not a one-for-one comparison by any means, but it might sting a little to realize that, yes, it might have worth it to bring Fàbregas back.

It’s almost enough to make one pine for the stays of on-loan players Kim “I also have umlauts” Källström and Emilio “who? Oh yeah, him” Viviano. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just…

What on earth is going on? We knew at some level that Arsène will probably leave his dealings late in the window, using a variety of excuses and dissemblings about the the World Cup and Champions League qualification and so on, but most of that was premised on the idea that we only had a small handful of signings to make. Heck, if we had held on to Sagna, we might have only needed three: a striker, a holding midfielder, and a keeper. Now, we look at a summer in which we need as many as five, if not six: those three plus a center-back (or two), a right-back, and a midfielder.

In the past, I’ve likened transfer-rumors to a weather-vane, a fitful, unreliable, but nonetheless helpful indicator of which way the wind is blowing. In seasons past, the weather-vane often pointed entirely the wrong way, with key players leaving and few if any coming in to replace them. However, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, each new departure and each new rumor feels more and more like a canary in a coal-mine. That’s not the melodramatic part. The melodrama comes from the idea that the club is the canary, and the departing players are the miners. The question then becomes, what will Arsène do about? Surely he sees the players fleeing the scene. Surely he sees that we can’t afford to leave it late again. He might reassure himself that the departures of Fabianski and Vermaelen (potentially) represent little more than the loss of back-up, squad-level players, but it’s harder to make the case around Sagna and Cazorla, instrumental players.

A few weeks ago, I contented myself with the idea that the signing of one or two players could paper over needs at other positions, at least for a while. That was before our needs began to add up, if not multiply. No, we haven’t seen Cazorla or Vermaelen leave, but it’s getting hard to sustain the optimism. If winning the FA Cup was supposed to launch a renaissance, why do the early signs feel so inauspicious? I’d love to believe that this all fits in with Arsène’s grand plan, but even I am finding that hard to believe.

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