With his contract talks dragging on, it seemed as if his physical commitment to challenges dropped and his positioning was unusually poor. With the emergence of Carl Jenkinson as a genuine challenger for a first-team spot, many fans would have advocated cashing in on the waning Sagna.
How times change.
The news that Sagna has picked up a three-week hamstring injury has prompted something resembling panic among the Arsenal fanbase.
Arsenal fans need not worry too much. Firstly, Sagna’s lay-off comes at a curiously appropriate time. It means he will miss the two-week international break and could even be back for the home game with Norwich on October 19.
Secondly, Jenkinson is a more than able deputy. He put in a man-of-the-match display in the recent League Cup tie with Sunday’s opponents West Brom, and will be aiming to replicate that all-action performance on Sunday.
However, the concern from Gooners underlines the dramatic turnaround in Sagna’s form.
Many had expected him to leave this summer, with The Guardian strongly linking Sagna with a return to his homeland of France. However, Arsene Wenger opted against letting Sagna go.
It’s been said before: Arsene knows.
Sagna looks like a man reborn. Perhaps a more fitting description would be “a man rebuilt.” Amid the abuse he suffered last season it was often forgotten that he had suffered two broken legs in as many years. Sagna’s body has now recuperated, and Arsenal are repeating the benefits.
Sagna looks as good as new. In this week’s 2-0 victory over Napoli, he was phenomenal, charging up and down the right flank to tremendous effect. He was even involved in the build-up to the first goal, playing a perfect clipped pass on to the chest of Olivier Giroud.
Later this season, Sagna will turn 31. As one of the more experienced members of the squad, he has become an important dressing-room figure. The likes of Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson can learn plenty from a full-back with Sagna’s exceptional track record. Sagna has even worn the captain’s armband this season, for the 3-1 win at Sunderland.
In that game, Sagna was fielded at centre-back as a replacement for the ill Per Mertesacker. This versatility has added a new string to his bow. It’s not too late for this old dog to learn new tricks.
Sagna’s performances at centre-back are consistently impressive: he’s no sub-standard deputy. The indications are that he could follow his countryman Lillian Thurman’s career path of converting from rampaging full-back to solid centre-half. As his stamina inevitably declines, the more static role could be more suitable.
Sagna’s current contract expires at the end of this season. Arsenal fans will be hoping that his time on the sidelines is spent hurriedly negotiating an extension. Tomas Rosicky, 33 today, has shown the value that an elder player can offer the squad.
Sagna’s versatility, experience and intelligence will be invaluable as Arsene Wenger waits for the rest of his squad to fully mature.