For Arsenal fans, Bacary Sagna’s expiring contract is a growing cause for concern. His anointed replacement, Carl Jenkinson, does not look anywhere near ready to replace him.
Throughout the summer, Sagna was linked with a move away from the club. There appeared to be a clear succession plan in place. Jenkinson had impressed during a run in the side in the early part of the 2012/13 season, even going so far as to win a call-up to the England squad for a friendly with Sweden.
When Sagna returned to the side, he didn’t look himself. Two broken legs appeared to have taken an understandable toll on the Frenchman, who couldn’t match Jenkinson’s athleticism, and there were calls for Jenkinson to be promoted full-time.
This summer, Sagna’s Arsenal deal was just one year from expiry. The likes of Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie have been sold when in that precarious position, so many outlets (including The Guardian) expected Arsene Wenger to cash in. Jenkinson was primed for prominence.
However, Sagna’s move never materialised, and the succession plan may now have to be scrapped entirely.
In Tuesday night’s match against Chelsea, Carl Jenkinson looked out of his depth.
He was at fault for Chelsea’s opener, initially hesitating to clear the ball and committing the cardinal defensive sin of allowing it to bounce. When he did eventually make contact, his header was poor and allowed Cesar Azpilicueta to nip in to score.
The error highlighted Jenkinson’s major weakness: his aerial ability. He is Arsenal’s tallest full-back yet has neither the spring nor the technical heading ability you’d expect of a Premier League defender.
Even stronger aspects of Jenkinson’s game, such as his crossing, were poor against Chelsea.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen Jenkinson struggle this season. In the North London derby with Tottenham, for example, he was given a torrid time by Nacer Chadli—a player who has hardly set the Premier League alight since moving from FC Twente.
Jenkinson may blame ring rust for his below-par performance. He’d have a point: Most defenders benefit from a consistent run in the side.
The truth is that Carl Jenkinson is not as bad a player as he looked in Tuesday's match. However, there is also mounting evidence that he’s not quite as good a player as he looked for long periods of last season.
Sagna, on the other hand, is going from strength to strength. His injuries are behind him, and his growing experience and newfound versatility, filling in at centre-back when required, make him an increasingly invaluable squad member.
Arsenal should sign Sagna up to a new deal as soon as possible. Jenkinson, however, would arguably benefit from a spell on loan. Regular football is what is required to iron out his faults.
However, with Sagna in such outstanding form, an out-of-sorts Jenkinson is unlikely to be afforded a run in the side any time soon.