Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sagna’s near-perfect performance against Sunderland emphasised his immense importance to the side

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 Sunderland.

He only returned to action two weeks ago, but already Bacary Sagna is back to his best; stamping his authority in games in a way few players in his position do. A model professional and superb athlete, Sagna is very much the unsung hero of this Arsenal side.

Sagna had the best WhoScored rating of any starting player on the pitch (7.3) and was one of the most involved players as nearly 50% of all play came on his side of the pitch*. Further to this, Bacary Sagna had more shots (two) than any other Arsenal player in the Starting XI, made the second-most tackles (four) and won a brilliant nine aerial duels, with a 90% success-rate*.

These stats alone show how much Sagna was involved against Sunderland, and against every team he comes up against. In a rather unremarkable game (up until the opening goal in the 70th minute), Sagna was one of few players who stood out and looked dangerous in the final third. Unlike the indecisive Theo Walcott, Sagna showed far more willingness to pump the ball into the box; attempting six (and competing two) crosses and completing all three of his attempted long balls*.

Despite being a fan-favourite in many people’s eyes, Sagna still does not get the recognition his performances deserve in the media. While news outlets criticise the defensive vulnerabilities of Wenger’s side, few also point out the impact that this man has had.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of Sagna’s performance at the Stadium of Light this weekend was not his own match statistics, but the fact he received so little help from others. Per Mertesacker – the right-sided centre back – made just one tackle and two interceptions while statistically, Theo Walcott made no defensive contribution at all*.

Up against the tricky and in-form James McCLean, Sagna did phenomenally well to limit Sunderland to just two shots from the right third of the pitch (one of which was McClean’s goal, which Sagna cannot take blame for)*. In contrast, his importance further up the pitch is emphasised by the fact that Arsenal had 36% (five) of their shots from the right side*.

While players such as Francis Coquelin and Nico Yennaris have impressed after being thrown in the deep-end by Sagna and Carl Jenkinson’s injuries at the start of the season, the difference between a talented youngster and a world-class player is only now really visible. Nothing against the two youngsters, but as Arsenal approach crunch-time in the season, they will be glad to have the presence of such an experienced and consistent player.

Furthermore, Sagna’s presence in the first-team – training, playing, and just being around – will be a huge boost to all those competing to become his long-term understudy. After all, the best way to learn is to watch, and play – in Sagna, these players will have the perfect role model to watch and learn from.

With any luck, Sagna will remain free of injuries for the foreseeable future, and see his hard-work turn into success and trophies. Perhaps then Sagna will be truly recognised as one of the greats of this club.

*OPTA statistics courtesy of Whoscored.com

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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