Manchester City have have reportedly offered unsettled Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna a three-year-deal in an attempt to lure one of Arsene Wenger’s most loyal and long serving stalwarts to the Etihad in the summer.
While several key members of the Gunners’ squad have committed their future to the club in recent months, Sagna has stalled over the contract he has been presented with.
The Frenchman is no spring chicken at 31 years of age yet is reluctant to sign the deal that has been tabled by the club he joined from Auxerre back in 2007, even though Wenger has uncharacteristically opted to move away from his policy of only granting one year extensions to players that have passed their 30th birthday.
Wenger’s move highlights just how important Sagna is to Arsenal and if he decides to head to Manuel Pellegrini’s outfit on a free transfer in June the news will be a bitter pill to swallow for the north Londoners, as the path between the two clubs has been well trodden in recent years.
However, Sagna’s arrival would leave the Chilean will somewhat of a selection dilemma. The former Malaga boss already boasts Pablo Zabaleta within his formidable ranks. Much more than simply an accomplished full-back, like Sagna, the Argentine is regarded as one of the division’s best right sided defenders.
Top teams have often sought to secure two world-class players in the same position to provide cover for any task, circumstance or eventuality, but who would have the rightful claim to line-up alongside centre-back Vincent Kompany and is there enough room for the duo in the same squad?
The pair have gone head-to-head once before, but the exchange was acrimonious to say the least. When a hot tempered game between their two current sides ticked into injury time with the scores locked at 0-0, Sagna did not take kindly to a robust challenge from Zabaleta and reacted furiously by head butting his opponent.
Both men saw red following the exchange and do not appear to have exchanged pleasantries since, so the Frenchman’s arrival could spark a fiercely competitive tussle for a regular starting berth.
It would be difficult to judge which player is more important to their club side at present as neither has been absent for a major part of the season, having missed just three games each apiece. Both are consistent and reliable performers that are more than up to physical challenge, assured in possession and able to get forward an support their team’s attacks.
Modern day full-backs do not only have to be amongst the fittest players on the pitch, they are also judged on their attacking intent despite their primary role as defenders. Sagna has created 16 chances and provided two assists this season while Zabaleta has managed to carve out just four more opportunities but has an assist total of five.
A fair assessment is that the Frenchmans’s delivery is significantly better from distance having completed 16 crosses this season while Zabaleta has managed just 5. However, while Sagna can produce curled efforts high into the area, Zabaleta often breaks towards the by line more regularly as he links up with City’s fluid midfield and provides a cut back into the penalty area.
Surprisingly, neither man attempts many take ons, as both have failed to reach double figures for their total for the campaign. Full-backs often have the opportunity to attack their man and beat their opposite number before crossing into the box, but it is City and Arsenal’s expansive style that allows a pass and move approach to create space in the wide areas to be a sound option.
In regards to goals, the two defenders are far from prolific with Zabaleta having failed to get off the mark and Sagna claiming just one goal. However, while both do not opt to pull the trigger all too often, Zabaleta has not managed a single attempt on target while Sagna has tested the goalkeeper on seven occasions. Although the Argentine was unlucky not to open his account with a cracking volley against Hull City.
Turning our attention to the defensive facets of their games, it is the 31-year-old Frenchman that holds the advantage in the air. Sagna has won 93 aerial duels this season, more than any City player and more than three times his rivals effort of 27.
But in regards to challenges on the deck, Zabaleta has eclipsed his rival. The Argentine is well out in front with 71 successful attempts, more than any player in Pellegrini’s squad, while Sagna is flagging behind with 35. But it is worth pointing out that Zabaleta is the only City defender to have a higher total than Sagna.
The battle for supremacy is difficult and both men are undoubtedly amongst the Premier League’s, if not the world’s, best players in their position. Seamus Coleman and Branislav Ivanovicare are also involved in the conversation, but to boast two of the four best players at one team would be a strange occurrence.
Sagna’s departure would be a huge blow for the Gunners as they would face a tough task finding an adequate replacement. Few could begrudge Sagna’s choice to seek pastures new as he enters the twilight years of his career, as he hopes to secure a piece of silverware before his retirement.
He has stuck with Wenger’s project longer than most and even if he wins the FA Cup with the north Londoners this season, he could consider it to be a fitting end to his stint at the club and a natural point to leave.
Meanwhile, Zabaleta has thrived on the pacey and physical nature of the Premier League since his arrived from Espanyol in 2008, after early misgivings, and is a firm favourites of the fans. He would be unwilling to give up his first team place and settle for a stint on the bench as he is arguably in his peak at present.
Although sitting on the fence is not ideal, until they are competing against each other it is a daunting prospect to pick one or the other and Pellegrini will face an unenviable decision. He could opt to rotate as he does on the left side of defence with Gael Clichy, an ex-Gunnner, and Aleksandar Kolarov.
With Sagna set to increase his £50,000-a-week wages significantly the lucrative offer from City would benefit him financially but a reduction in game time could result in his decline on the pitch.
If the transfer comes to pass it will be an intriguing prospect to see the pair compete with each other, the duel could result in both players improving or one stepping up to the plate and cruise past his rival.
City would be hugely boosted by the transfer and even if Sagna did not prove to be a success, they would have significantly weakened a direct rival. Plenty of questions will go unanswered until Sagna’s future is resolved but one thing is certain, if if he bound for the Etihad Micah Richards must accept that he has no future at the club.