By Jay Jaffa
It is generally accepted that Bacary Sagna held the title of the Premier League's best right-back over a three-year spell beginning in 2008-09, and it was almost akin to labelling the Frenchman the best in the world, such was the power of English clubs on the continent.
Yet after a suspect 18-month spell of form, part attributed to a spate of injuries - it is no mean feat to rebound from one broken leg, let alone the two that have afflicted the Frenchman in the past couple of seasons - Sagna's worth is being roundly questioned.
|SAGNA ON THE BRINK
|EXCLUSIVE: Arsenal are ready to sell the right-back this summer|
Sagna is a product of the trophyless generation, a near eight-year wait of which he has been present for six. Given his distinction, is it not reasonable to expect a greater return?
What is less reasonable is Sagna's insistence that he deserves a better contract than the one that pays him £60,000 per week until 2014. As Goal.com revealed, talks between the 30-year-old and the club have broken down, leaving his future up in the air.
Given Arsenal's new-found desire to tie their key assets down before they are able to use their expiring contracts to their advantage, Sagna's prospects do not look great. Especially considering he was omitted from the club's 2013 calendar.
He is unlikely to have difficulty finding a new club; given the lack of quality right-backs in the game, somebody will be willing to take a punt. But it is his attitude that grates.
Arsenal stood by Sagna when his brother died during his first season at Emirates Stadium, and Wenger supported him as he battled back from serious injury. The club have afforded him time and given him the warmth and attention all players need in their darker moments.
Every player has a right to expect reward for years of good service and it would take a pretty shoddy agent to not seek to improve the terms of a client's contract. So in that respect, it is difficult to be too stern with Sagna.
However, he comes from the Arsenal school of over-indulgence – players paid beyond their worth (even on Arsene Wenger's strict pay scale) on contracts not befitting their status in the squad. His current deal feels exactly right. Perhaps if we were discussing this issue in 2010 he would have a strong case for being paid more money. But he is now in the same bracket as Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Abou Diaby – useful options (when fit in Diaby's case) but not absolutely essential members of the squad.
And that is the stark reality for Sagna in the current climate. His form is dipping and has been since the start of last season, and you would struggle to fit him into a list of the top five right-backs in the league at present.
There is an element of, somewhat understandable, fear in his approach to games now, wary of a repeat of the bone-crunching tackles that have put him on the treatment table. Physically, he is slowing and is less the competitor he was when he first arrived at London Colney.
Some wonder if centre-back is an option. Wenger certainly believed so after observing him on the training ground and then in the 1-0 win at Sunderland. But this strikes more of a fad than a long-term solution. Sunderland is one thing, Bayern Munich an entirely different challenge.
Above all of this, though, Sagna finally has genuine competition to his position.
Carl Jenkinson was a Premier League running joke last season following the horror show and red card in the humiliating 8-2 loss at Old Trafford, but there are signs now that he is growing into the player Wenger predicted he would be upon joining from Charlton in 2011.
Jenkinson emerged with his burgeoning reputation intact following the north London derby defeat to Tottenham. Far from the performances of an out-of-sorts Per Mertesacker and an increasingly wobbly Thomas Vermaelen, Jenkinson stuck diligently to his task at right-back. It wasn't a performance for the ages but he would have been the least of Steve Bould's worries come Monday morning.
Wenger handed Jenkinson and his five British comrades long-term contracts earlier this season not as a sign of his growing Anglophile nature, but as evidence that he trusts the next generation of Arsenal talent. Alongside Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson is in excellent company.
It may take time for Wenger's faith to be justified but as we know there are few managers on the planet more courageous with youth than the embattled 63-year-old. It may not be as simple as tossing a coin and picking Sagna or Jenkinson, but you rather get the feeling that Wenger would rather mould the rough diamond than carry on polishing a gem losing its sparkle.
Wenger is no stranger to the financial ramifications of the decisions he makes at Arsenal, indeed his influence in the boardroom exceeds many of his counterparts and based on past experience he may feel paying Sagna more than he is worth serves no-one other than the Frenchman. That isn't strictly true - Sagna could become an ideal tutor for Jenkinson and his wealth of experience is almost unrivalled in the Arsenal squad.
But Sagna is treading a dangerous line by pressing Arsenal for better terms, and indeed the way he is going about it - his current attitude is no example for any young footballer to follow.
He had been one of the league's premier right-backs prior to injury, the model of consistency, and Arsenal will recognise that. But with Wenger chasing defensive reinforcements and the club in a negative spiral, as Andre Villas-Boas put it, don't expect them to indulge Sagna's demands for long.
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