Bacary Sagna: Arsenal are Man City's main competition for the title
The former full-back, who played for both clubs, discusses what the Gunners are capable of this season and reveals the secrets behind Mikel Arteta's success.
Former Arsenal and Man City full-back Bacary Sagna gives his verdict on Arsenal's start to the season and discusses whether they can keep pace with Man City, who are favourites to win the title in the latest Premier League betting.
What do you make of the progress that Arsenal have made this season?
I think it’s a continuation of what happened last season. We can see that the club are trying to build a team based on specific qualities when they recruit players and it’s working very well for them.
They brought in quality players last year. I was not convinced at the beginning because of the age of some of them and the lack of experience, but it’s worked perfectly. I feel last year was just a warm-up for what we can expect during the next year or two.
It’s a solid team, a very well-structured team. We have to give Mikel [Arteta] great credit because he took the criticism on his back and he always put the team first. He is now overseeing the building of an excellent Arsenal team for what has always been a fantastic football club.
What do they need to do to stay at the top of the Premier League?
Oh, a lot still needs to be done and I’m sure the players are aware of it. But they are putting the right things in place. They have started perfectly, they have responded perfectly to the end of last season and I’m impressed by their commitment.
The additions to the club are excellent. Gabriel Jesus is ideal for this team and exactly the type of player they should be looking for. What’s great to see is that the connection with the fans is back. You can clearly see that the fans are really happy and supportive. It’s nice to see some stability. When I was at Arsenal, I felt there were times it could be difficult to play at our absolute best when there was negative attention on the club.
But football is football and I know everything can fall away in no time. I’m sure Mikel will be on their backs, telling them that they have quality but the results only come from putting in maximum effort and concentration into every game.
You know Mikel Arteta well as a teammate and when he coached you at Man City. Were you confident he would make a good manager?
Definitely. Back in the day we used to have family dinners together and he was always the type of person who was talking tactics and analysing the type of players we will be facing.
I remember I used to go and watch El Clasico with him and he was always talking about the teams, asking why they’re playing 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 or whatever. I was like: “Whoa, I’ve just come to watch the game, why do we have to talk tactics?!”
But that’s him. He had to analyse and he was always living the game. He always had that part in him.
And I think it has to come naturally. If you’re going to make it as a top coach, these things come naturally.
Of course you can pass your badges to become a coach, but what makes all the difference is the way you live your job, the way you approach your training sessions, the way you participate in your training session and the impact you have on your players by directly involving yourself with them.
On a daily basis, you feel like Mikel is leading the training and gaining the support of the whole team.
We saw that in the recent All Or Nothing documentary. Did you watch it?
I haven’t seen it, but I know everybody is talking about. Mikel is very emotional. If he isn’t happy, he’ll be the first one to tell you he isn’t happy. But he will create a connection with his players so they will keep fighting.
Psychology plays a big part for him. You can see even when it’s difficult – for example, the Fulham game last weekend – the team kept pushing. The fans kept pushing.
The players are really committed, even the substitutes, and they fully believe in the project.
This is a real football team, you know? It’s not only about the XI that starts the game, you can feel a real engagement from everyone. It’s nice.
It’s how Manchester United used to be when we played them. Everyone there was so engaged. They would even be putting pressure on the referee. They had the whole team there, the bench going crazy. It’s a feeling that you need to be successful. At some point you have to feel that energy.
What similarities are there between Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola?
Both of them are fully committed to the job. They want to give back the knowledge they got to learn as player. I’m not surprised that they worked together because they have the same values and ideas about football.
Mikel was very young when he was a coach at Manchester City. It was a lot of responsibility to be Pep’s assistant. But he was very impressive and eventually Pep said to him: “OK, Mikel, now you’re ready to have your own team and try by yourself.”
You also played with Gabriel Jesus? What did you make of him then and how successful can he be at Arsenal?
Gabby is perfect for Arsenal. He is very clever on the pitch, he knows where to press, he is always there to put pressure on you. As a defender, he is annoying to play against because he has skills, he is powerful and in front of goal he is clinical.
I think he is the kind of player who needs to play regularly to perform. It was a bit difficult for him at Man City not being able to produce what he could every single weekend. I was alsso like that. I needed to be playing regularly to be perfect physically and mentally.
He is a natural fit at Arsenal because it is a team that uses young players and has the right mentality for him. It’s a nice environment.
Finally, what can Arsenal achieve this season?
I feel Arsenal can be the main competition to Man City for the Premier League title, who of course remain the very strong favourites.
I don’t see any other team that can challenge them. Of course you can’t totally rule out Liverpool, but they have lost Sadio Mane and don’t look the same without him.
Mane and Mohamed Salah complemented each other so well and were so consistent, I’m not sure Liverpool will be feared in quite the same way this season. I think teams are just paying the way they want to play rather than just working defensively to stop Mane and Salah.
Having already dropped points it’ll be difficult for Liverpool to catch up.
With Arsenal having made a perfect start it feels like they could be the main contenders to compete with this incredible Manchester City side for the Premier League title.