Thursday, 2 February 2012

Bacary Sagna’s returning performance showed how much Arsenal have missed him

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Bacary Sagna's performance against Bolton.

In his first return to the starting line-up since the defeat to Tottenham four months ago, Bacary Sagna’s performance against Bolton showed the reason why Arsenal’s full-back issues have hit them so hard. When you’re used to consistency and world-class standards, anything else is never going to be good enough.

A snip at less than £10 million, Sagna is yet another example of Wenger’s much-criticised philosophy of buying cheap, under-the-radar players from abroad. Since his debut, the Frenchman has been the perfect combination of attacking flair, and defensive solidity; using his pace and strength to get up and down the wing throughout the game – apparently never tiring.

Sagna almost capped off a brilliant performance as he went as close as possible to creating the opening goal of the match – his low cross from the right finding Robin van Persie, who could only hit the post. After a broken leg kept him from playing football for nearly four months (having made his first return to action against Aston Villa at the weekend), the right-back could be forgiven for a slight drop in quality. Instead – as ever – he reacted to his set-back in the best way possible.

Given the task of handling the tricky Martin Petrov, Sagna did well to make five tackles (only less than one player on the pitch; Mikel Arteta) – although he didn’t make a single interception during the match*. This last statistic is not entirely surprising, however, given that both of Bolton’s wingers prefer to play in front of their markers and take them on rather than looking to make runs behind them; shown by the fact Petrov was caught offside just once and averages a fairly high 0.5 dribbles per game*.

Going forward, Sagna was a little more reserved than usual – perhaps to be expected considering he hasn’t had time to get fully match-fit – and attempted only two crosses (completing one)*. Despite that, he was happy to be involved when Arsenal had the ball, completing 55 passes (sixth-most in the side), with an 89% accuracy, less than only Mark Davies of Bolton*.

Sagna’s importance to the team is further emphasised by the fact that Arsenal have managed to keep clean-sheets in four of his seven appearances in the Premier League this season, while they have kept the same number in sixteen games without him so far**.

Despite a disappointing result, Arsenal can look forward to welcoming back several players from injury as we approach the run-in for the Premier League, as well as two Champions League legs against A.C. Milan and the FA Cup 5th Round.

While players like Jack Wilshere and Andre Santos will be missed, the return of Bacary Sagna was arguably most important. A player who sets examples as an ultimate professional and superb athlete is just what a young squad needs to help them through a difficult period, and Wenger will be delighted that Sagna appears to be relatively unfazed by his injury.

However, while a player of his class is always going to be needed and missed, there remain questions over whether his back-up is sufficient should Sagna suffer a second injury, suspension or simply needs rest.

*OPTA statistics courtesy of whoscored.com
**Statistic via @randomanomaly on twitter

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.



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