Bacary Sagna: Arsenal Will Win the League Under Arteta, It Will Happen

Bacary Sagna is a Premier League legend, making 267 appearances over 10 seasons. Once heralded by Arsene Wenger as the best right-back in the league, he won the F.A Cup with Arsenal in 2014 and the League Cup with Manchester City in 2016.

Representing his country France, Sagna earned 65 caps and played alongside modern greats including Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry and Thierry Henry.

Sagna sat down and spoke to about his thoughts on Arsenal’s top four chances, the young talent coming through the ranks and who he’s backing for the Premier League title and UEFA Champions League.

Emile Smith Rowe, just how good is he? Does he remind you of any former Arsenal stars? 

He’s been amazing. He’s been impressing me a lot. Initially I wasn’t sure about Arsenal giving him the number 10, I thought it was a bit early, but he’s mature for his age and shown he deserves it.

Sometimes when you have players wearing the number 10, they think they’ve made it already and I was worried about him having too much pressure, and how he would deal with it.

Playing for Arsenal isn’t easy and with his responsibilities now for the national team, it could be a lot. But he’s been brilliant for the club, in all aspects of the game, he doesn’t hide on the pitch.


What do you make of the club (Arsenal) at the minute?

I wasn’t pleased with their start to the season. You expect your favourite team to play to a certain level and they weren’t, and it was disappointing. I was disappointed by the first three games of the season.

However, they look like a real team now, their confidence is up there with the best. They’ve found their way and how they want to play. I’ll always have trust in Mikel, I’ve known him for a long time. From a club point of view, I know they want to invest in young players, but for the future they’ll need some of the best.

I won’t accept the club to be average. This is Arsenal. When you see the facilities, the location in London and globally you know how big the club is. Any criticism I have is in the same way I treat my son. I wouldn’t accept less at school from him when I know he can do better!

The atmosphere and mood in the squad is totally different to how it was earlier in the season. It’s clear that confidence has been key and you need a strong spine of experienced players to help with that. You can’t solely rely on younger players, much as it is always great to see academy products representing the first team – it requires a blend of youth and experience to help protect the burden on the youngsters and to act as a guide to them.

With players aged 19 or 20 there’s huge pressure on them to deliver and in this day and age they could be affected by criticism on social media.  You’d worry about the impact it could have on their mental health. I’m pleased things are changing and there’s more help for players now.

I’ve been through it myself – when I’ve had bad games, I wanted to hide and stay in bed, and that was even when I was older and more experienced! So, imagine how kids are coping with it. I’m not sure I could have dealt with it so well.

At the moment it’s looking like Arsenal are developing into having a good balance between youth and experience and hopefully they can continue their impressive recent form.


Which signing should Arsenal make in January? 

The team is quite complete at the minute. If anything, they’ll need a CB. It’s not as if they’re not performing and whilst White and Gabriel look solid there and Tomiyasu is fantastic, they have to stay injury free.

So, a CB for cover to ensure you don’t concede is what you’ll need to push on. They’ve got Saka, ESR, Auba to create and score chances.


Arsene Wenger once described you as the greatest RB in the league? Who would you say is the best RB in the league at present?

It’s an honour to be named best RB and to have played under Wenger. I felt I was and that I had the potential to be the best RB in the world, but I was critical and knew when I did wrong.

In terms of who is the best RB in the league at the minute? I’d say Kyle Walker. He’s improved so much – he used to be out of position often but now he’s so focused and so composed. He anticipates well, he is always in the right position. He has so much influence on the pitch.


Can Mikel Arteta get Arsenal challenging for a title?

It will happen. I know Mikel. I was worried to see them play this season, but Mikel knows what he’s doing and can bring so much to the team regarding the mentality, the discipline.

He was Pep’s assistant for a reason. He was only 36/37 and Pep wouldn’t have taken him on otherwise, he could have had anyone. There’s no luck with Mikel, he knows what he’s doing.

Top 4 will be difficult this season and that’s the first step. The next ten games for Arsenal are crucial.


Mikel Arteta at City and Arsenal – What’s he like as a person?

Mikel and I got on very well, his family too. He’s a loving man, he always tries to bring people together, having barbecues at his place and inviting everyone over. Always trying to give this culture to the team.

Sometimes he was a bit harsh, but only because he was looking for excellence. I’m not surprised he was captain and now the coach. Not everyone can deal with that pressure of management, but he can. He has an unbelievable work ethic and is always looking to bring the best out of people – even if it seems harsh.


Based on the barbecues, is he a good cook?

He was! I ate well, I can tell you. But not fat, no fatty meat, he had this thing for details. Like Pep, he was focused on training, how you recover. A brilliant professional.


Pogba at United? Thoughts on his situation and should he leave? 

I love Paul and the way he plays. I don’t want to speak for him, but it seems like things have been a little difficult between him and the fans at times because they expect so much from him.

They want him to be perfect because he’s so charismatic on the pitch and can create so much space they want him to do everything. A bit like now with Ronaldo.

Pogba got a lot of stick for his recent sending off, yes it was a bad tackle, but he’s trying to fight and get the ball back for the team. What do you want him to do, just stand and watch? People think he doesn’t care, that he’s smiling but knowing him he was disappointed.

I don’t know if he belongs at Man United. I’d love to see him shining in the team – he loves Manchester.


Who are you predicting to win the Premier League and who have you got for the Champions League?

Man City. The whole squad is so strong, and they have options for every part of the pitch. Their squad will be key for getting through the Christmas fixtures when the games are so competitive.

In the Champions League, for City it will be difficult. I hope that Man City will win but they fell short last year as they had so much expectation on them. I watched them and they played differently to how they do normally. They knew they had to win and that pressure got to them.

The most difficult thing to do in football is dealing with pressure. You need to find the right pace to be able to win, even if you have pressure.


Any stories from your time with Arsene Wenger?

I will always respect Arsene Wenger. Every morning he would come into the dressing room and say hi to everyone. He would make sure everyone was mentally and physically well. He never pushed anyone beyond their limit and he always tried to listen to the players – it was an exchange.

I think it’s really important for those to be at the top but still listen to those around you and how they feedback. He was so important for me and many other players.


When you first joined Arsenal there were some great players like Fabregas, Diaby, Nasri, why do you think Arsenal never won the league back then?

We were playing to have fun – when we started playing to win titles it put pressure on us and we were thinking about the other team’s results. We started playing with the handbrake on, changing the way we were playing when it was going so well.


Abou Diaby had a lot of injury problems – how good a player was he?

Abou was amazing. Fearless with a huge amount of talent but his injury finished it off because he dislocated his ankle, then after that he was compensating from somewhere else, and he never managed to get back to what he was. He became fragile. An unlucky player but he was brilliant.


Another player you seemed to have a good relationship with was Wojciech Szczęsny – he always seemed like he would play a ball to you and that’s how Arsenal would start the attack. What was he like as a person?

He was a joker, sometimes it was too much but it was a joy to play with him because he was brilliant. He had a lot of talent. I saw him growing and he was coming out of the academy when I joined. He was one of the best goalkeepers in the world for me.

So, to have someone like him who’s able to switch off as soon as the game is over and to switch on like that is a real talent – it’s not easy to do.


Nasri – you played with him at City and Arsenal. What was he like?

Samir was crazy, on and off the pitch! I respect him for being honest with me, the other players and the coaches but unfortunately, he perhaps could have reigned in some of his thoughts. Sometimes when you don’t like something and you’re in a group, you have to choose your moments when to speak up.

But I’d rather have someone like him who was honest, than someone who was fake to you. I will always respect that side of him.


The 2014 FA Cup final, your last game for the club, how did you feel about that? 

It was very difficult for me, even now I’m still emotional about it. It was my last game with the club I loved. The talks I had with them were not going well so I’d already made up my mind that I was leaving because I wanted to feel wanted.

You really want to feel the love. I truly gave my best for the club even when I wasn’t mentally there due to personal circumstances.

People criticise me today saying I left for money, but I stayed at the club six years on the same contract and if you ask Arsene Wenger not even once did I ask for more money.

I really played with my heart so when I came back to the club and people started booing me it hurt. But I guess that’s life and I still have a lot of love for the club and want them to do well.

Even if I were to criticise the team, it’s from a good place. When you love something, you have to be fair and honest.


What was it like to work with Guardiola at City? How was he different from Arsene Wenger?

It was amazing. His knowledge to improve, he taught me a lot. Not only as a player but as a man.

Today I still speak with him and the way he greets me and treats me, I’ll always be respectful. To me he’s important, he made me realize how I can work harder and train harder, how to recover more effectively. His knowledge of the game is incredible.