Tag Archives: UEFA

So, Sagna's set to sign for City? That's so…

I’ll resist the alliteration and rhyme that the question begged me to answer with. Suffice it to say that the answer ain’t “sitty” but something quite close. Depending on who you believe, Sagna has already agreed terms with with Man City or is still entertaining offers. It’s hard to resist the sinking sensation that Sagna, one way or another, has played his last match at the Emirates, for one, and may have even played his last match for Arsenal, period. That last bit might be more of a bold statement, what with two matches remaining, but if neither the club nor the player are willing to compromise, there’s little left in it but to let him go. If this means we see a third former Gunner at the Etihad, well, so be it.

So much for ‘hatred’, I guess…

Don’t get me wrong. On a sentimental level, it would hurt to see him go. After all, I did just wax nostalgic on the virtues of loyalty and devoting one’s career to one club the other day. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, I’ll admit. Sagna’s been with Arsenal longer than most players, save Walcott, Diaby and Rosicky, and has been a bedrock in defense for the duration. To see him go would be a sad day; to see leave him leave on a Bosman to a league-rival would be a slap in the face.

The claim is that he’s unhappy with the terms Arsenal have offered, and that makes sense. He’s been loyal, he’s been dependable, he’s done what he’s been asked. At some level (again, largely sentimental), he has a right to expect some kind of pay-out, which is something I’ve suggested in the past, and our robust financial health might encourage him to believe that we’re capable of rising to those expectations. However, as we’ve learned time and again, sentiment plays a small, small role in these talks. At the risk of sounding callous, if sentiment is supposed to motivate the club to offer a richer payout, shouldn’t sentiment also suggest to Sagan that he sympathize with the club that’s supported him for so long? I’m not asking that Sagna accept a low offer out of loyalty, compassion, or any other touchy-feely factors, but it’s hard to believe that we’re so far apart that he’d leave on a free. Not to City.

While we’re on the subject of feelings, I guess that a move to Man City won’t be the least bit awkward even if Sagna will be there as support and competition for Pablo Zabaleta, a man whose insults “pushed me to the limit”, as Sagna put it, adding that he “felt hatred” towards the Argentinian. Time heals all wounds, I’m sure, but it raises the larger question of why Sagna, by all accounts Arsenal’s first-choice right-back to the point that a loan was considered for Jenkinson, would go to City, where he’d be a back-up to Zabaleta. If the insults Zabaleta aimed at him were enough to inspire hatred deep enough to get sent off, pride might motivate Sagna to consider what he’s signing on for.

Enough of the touchy-feely. Strategically, losing Sagna would be tough, but not as tough as we might worry. Jenkinson and Bellerin are not yet ready for full first-team action, of course, and we’ll need a more-seasoned replacement. However, that was true if less obvious a few weeks ago. At 31, Sagna has shown worrying signs that he’s (a) no longer able to or (b) no longer willing to get forward and track back. Time and time again, he’s been guilty of failing to get back on defense, whether it was a quick counter-attack or even a slower build-up, and we’ve been exposed and conceded goals as a result. On the whole, Sagna has probably prevented more goals than he’s invited in this way, and even if the issue has been willingness rather than ability, it’s starting to sound like he’s less and less willing to put in that effort. If we did convince him to stay, how are we to know that the attitude will change? Staying, after all, would require him at some level to forego at least some of what he’s demanding in pay or length of contract, and that’s likely to erode effort rather than inspire it. We depend on our wide defenders to get forward and get back, and if Sagna’s not committed to (or no longer capable of) doing that, well, it might just be time to part ways anyway.

So why Man City? From Sagna’s point of view, of course, the answer is loud and clear. An increased chance at silverware, not to mention they can afford to pay him just about anything. Kind of. With UEFA ready to sanction the club for violating FFP, they’re going to have to mind their pounds and quid just a bit more. No, the £50m fine is not going to have any impact on their dealings. Sheikh Mansour could probably fumble around in the back of a junk-drawer to scrounge up that amount. The more-serious consideration might come through a Champions League squad-reduction. UEFA is considering reducing City’s squad from 25 to as low as 21 or even 18. That, combined with UEFA’s homegrown players rule, which requires that at least eight eligible players to have trained domestically (not with their current club, just domestically)  for three years between the ages of 15 and 21, could seriously limit Man City’s options in the Champions League. Sagna would be ineligible to play, as would other defenders like Zabaleta, Nastasic, Demichelis, Boyata, Kolarov, and Kompany. In fact, the only defenders in the City squad who would still be eligible would be Lescott and Richards. The homegrown players rule applies to the entire squad, and Man City could find its six other eligible players elsewhere in the roster: Joe Hart. James Milner. Richard Wright. Jack Rodwell. That’s six, meaning Man City would need two more call-ups or signings, and these would have to meet that homegrown players rule.

Heck, while we’re on the subject of unhappy right-backs, does anyone fancy a go at Richards? He’s already unhappy and out of favor, having made only five appearances all season, and he’d have to feel like the arrival of Sagna would cut the number in half, if not more (let’s call it 60% to keep the math clean).

I’d be sad to see Sagna go, whether it’s to City, PSG, Fener, or wherever it is he’d end up. Despite my old-fashioned, soft-in-the-head ideals around loyalty, there’s little we can do to prevent it. If Sunday’s win over West Brom was his swan-song, it at least ends on a high-note, whether it was Bac’s performance or Elias’s goal.

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);

Please, UEFA, pit Man U against Chelsea, won't you?

I know the Gunners have a match coming up, but with the UEFA quarterfinal draw happening on Friday, I hope you won’t hold it against me if I hope that Chelsea get the best possible draw for the next round of their Champions League foray. The draw is now open, which means that rivals from the same league can now face each other. After a season in which we at Arsenal have seen a number of draws pit us against some of the toughest opponents available—our own Champions League Group of Death, Chelsea in the league cup’s 4th round, Bayern again, then Spuds, Liverpool, and Everton in the FA Cup—wouldn’t it be nice to see a draw help us out, even if we’re not directly involved? I speak, of course, of my hope that Chelsea draw the kind of opponent that will allow them to advance ever-deeper in the Champions League. Ladies and gents, I present to you Manchester United.

After all, the further into the Champions League that Chelsea goes, the more matches they play. That’s blindingly obvious. The further they go, the more fatigue and stress they face. Even for a club as deep as Chelsea, that becomes a factor. The matches will be played on 1-2 and 8-9 April, and the semifinals played on 22-23 and 29-30 April. None of this helps Arsenal this Saturday, of course, but it could create the kind of cluttered fixtures that could distract Chelsea’s players and sap their energies (a less compassionate, sensitive, and humane writer than this correspondent would also mention injuries. I’m nothing if not compassionate, sensitive, and human, so I would never wish injury on a fellow human being. Then again, John Terry). Unfortunately, Chelsea’s remaining Prem fixtures are pretty soft, and it’s unlikely that they’ll drop points there without something else to think about.

And that’s where Man U comes in—I hope. They’re arguably the weakest team left in the Champions League. Only a vital, pull-out-all-stops performance against Olympiakos (themselves one of the weakest teams to advance to the knockout stage) allowed Man U to advance to this stage. Killing two birds with one stone, this could lead to the savory ouster of Man U, consigning them to their first trophyless season since 2005 while forcing Chelsea into a semifinal against far-stiffer competition. Depending on tomorrow’s draw, the outcome of those matches, and the semifinal draw, Chelsea might still face Barcelona, PSG, Bayern, or—ironies of ironies—Real Madrid. Far be it from me to use spite as a motivator, but how delicious would it be to see Mourinho—er, Chelsea—crash out of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid (who show no signs of missing the Specious One at all)?

Adding four matches to their schedule, including all of that extra travel, preparation, might just do to Chelsea what it did to them the last time they progressed so deep into the Champions League. In 2012, when they won the Champions League, they slumped to sixth in the Prem. Now, it’s almost impossible for them to fall that far this time around, and I’m sure as sugar that I don’t want them winning the Champions League a second time through, but I’d trade a little at each end: a little less progress in the Champions League and a somewhat higher finish in the Prem. That’s a tidy little compromise, isn’t it?

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);