Monday, 22 August 2011

Bacary Sagna: Arsenal's unsung hero against Liverpool and key to the squad.

Inside The Formation is a new feature on for the 2011/12 season. We'll be asking a writer to look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Joss Bennett looks at Bacray Sagna's role against Liverpool.

As a depleted Arsenal side crashed to an early first defeat of the season at home to Liverpool, one of the most interesting areas of an injury hit-line up was Bacary Sagna’s performance at left-back.

A right-back by trade, the versatile French defender was signed from Auxerre in 2007 as another unheard of 20-something player from Ligue 1 – the kind of signing Arsene Wenger has become synonymous with.

Since then, Arsenal and Wenger have never looked back as Sagna has become arguably the best right-back in the Premier League, combining solid defensive attributes with superb athleticism and pace going forward.

Sagna put in another assured performance against Liverpool, and was Arsenal’s second-best rated outfield player according to WhoScored ratings – picking up a 7.1 which was only just shy of vice-captain Thomas Vermaelen’s 7.4 (another player who had to play out of position for most of the match after Koscielny’s injury).

Interestingly, Sagna was clearly more cautious on Saturday than he usually is, although his average position data wouldn’t show it as he cleverly adapted the role by pushing up (as he usually does) and looking to intercept passes down the line early to avoid having to make tackles on his wrong foot (which isn’t usually the reason he pushes up).

Sagna’s five interceptions (four outside the box, and one inside) against the Merseyside outfit was more than double what he averaged last season in the Premier League (just over two interceptions per game)* while the Guardian Chalkboards show how he tried to get the tackles he did make in early.

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by Guardian Chalkboards

Going forward, Sagna looked a little nervous – unsure about bringing the ball out of defence, and as shown by the Guardian Chalkboards, most of his 32 completed passes in open play** were short and simple, suggesting a willingness to offload to more creative players in the centre rather than take on the hard-working Dirk Kuyt and excellent Martin Kelly on his own.

Furthermore, 57% of those passes were made on or around the halfway line while 39% of them were in his
own half**.

Although never the most prolific provider (he managed only three assists in the Premier League last season for Arsenal), it’s interesting to note that even when Sagna did venture into the opposition half, he rarely crossed the ball – attempting (and completing) two crosses all game*, compared to his average of 4.6 crosses per game last season (a natural decrease considering he would have to switch onto his right foot every time he wanted to cross).


Sagna’s impressive display against Liverpool – despite being forced to play left-back after Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore were both consigned to the treatment table – was just one example of the quality performances Arsenal’s unsung (literally since the Grove have yet to find a chant for him) hero has put in on a consistent basis since joining the Gunners.

If young full-back Carl Jenkinson, who takes after Sagna in many ways – in his versatility and athleticism – is to be successful in red and white in the future, Bacary Sagna will undoubtedly have a big role to play in showing him the ropes as one of the most experienced players in the squad at the grand old age of 27.

The Frenchman will also be key to any trophy hopes Arsenal have this season if he can keep up his usual level of performance.

*OPTA statistics courtesy of EPL Index.

**OPTA statistics from Guardian Chalkboards.

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Follow Ashburton Grove on Twitter, chatting Arsenal throughout the day. To receive the blog everyday you can subscribe via e-mail or take the RSS feed to your favourite reader.

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