Arsenal: Sagna's Proven His Future Is At Centre-Back

Called upon to play in the heart of defence against Sunderland, Sagna put in a stellar performance alongside Mertesacker as Arsenal secured an unlikely three points at the Stadium of Light.
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Called upon to play in the heart of defence against Sunderland, Sagna put in a stellar performance alongside Mertesacker as Arsenal secured an unlikely three points at the Stadium of Light.

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It seems a quick turnaround of Arsenal's situation against Sunderland on Saturday; they had a good first half before a tough second, with arguably their two best players being defenders. One of those was the dominant Wojciech Szczesny, who denied Steven Fletcher, Sunderland's main goal threat, on several occasions.

The other was Bacary Sagna; his stellar performance also a quick change of events in itself. The French defender had been having a difficult time since his return from injury at the expense of Carl Jenkinson - he was often being caught out up the field, and it had been suggested that his heart wasn't in it anymore, with his contract running out in the summer of 2014 and little talk of an extension.

Those doubts were firmly pushed aside by Sagna's heroic performance out of position - Laurent Koscielny didn't make it through the warm-up, meaning his international team-mate was pushed to centre-back 15 minutes before kick-off. After the dismissal of Jenkinson, who came in at right-back, on 62 minutes, a resurgent Sunderland team continued to bombard Arsenal.

The home side weren't able to slice through the Gunners much despite the numerical advantage, but Jenkinson's red card led to Wenger's men struggling to retain possession, and that just meant that the attacks from Sunderland kept on coming.

Not that Sagna was fazed - the 29-year-old stayed focused and reliable, making 11 successful clearances of 15; nine out of 11 aerial clearances were successful. His aerial dominance was reaffirmed by his winning of six out of 10 aerial duels. For a man of 5 ft 9, that's no mean feat.

It may well be that Sagna has a future as a centre back at Arsenal, despite his height (nobody noticed Fabio Cannavaro's small stature). Players like Lilian Thuram and Paolo Maldini successfully prolonged their careers by moving from full back into the centre, so it may well be that Sagna follows suit.

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Sagna had been one of the best full backs around for Arsenal before his broken legs, but as well as knocking his confidence they seem to have damaged his stamina. As Andre Santos will confirm, stamina is one of the key things for a full back at Arsenal - in fact, given the ground they're expected to cover in support of the wide forwards, they may as well be classified as wing backs.

The mop-haired defender used to fit that criterion, but these days is often seen struggling to get back. His legs may have gone a little, but the brain is still very much there, and he remains solid under pressure. His acrobatic clearance at the Stadium of Light was a reminder of his best form from 2007/08.

Arsenal's loaning out of Johan Djourou seemed sensible at the time, as he wasn't getting game time and is certainly the type of player who struggles when he doesn't have a consistent run in team. However, they brought in no cover, which meant that either the error-prone Sebastien Squillaci or the unproven, wobbly Ignasi Miquel would be fourth choice.

Now it seems as if they have another option - Sagna was truly magnificent with Sunderland seemingly sure to score. He has always given Arsenal good assistance going forward from the right, but his main qualities have always been defensive. Arsenal appear to lack defenders who are good at defending with their backs to the wall - Sagna is certainly not one of them.

Those who doubted his professionalism may have to reconsider their position after his brave, resilient performance and passionate celebration at full time. It may well be that Arsene Wenger reconsiders Sagna's position, too.