Premier League: bet365 Exclusive with Bacary Sagna
A Premier League Stalwart with 267 appearances over 10 seasons, Bacary Sagna was once heralded as the best right-back in the Premier league by Arsene Wenger.
Having won the F.A Cup with Arsenal in 2014 and the League Cup with Manchester City in 2016, Sagna also earned 65 caps for France, playing alongside the likes of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry and Thierry Henry.
Sagna spoke to bet365 about his thoughts on Arsenal’s top four chances, the young talent coming through the ranks and the huge potential of Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League.
What did you make of the North London Derby last night? Did you think it was a penalty when Cedric was penalised? What did you make of the sending off?
Arsenal were robbed. The two major events changed the game for me. There was contact with Cedric, but football is a contact sport and we're used to having contact in the box.
As a right back, I was used to getting into contact with other players regularly but that didn't make the action a foul.
Ultimately it’s a shame, it was a really important game for Arsenal and by making such a big decision, the referee changed the outcome of the game.
For me it wasn't a penalty, and it wasn't a red card for Rob Holding either. It's crazy how other players and teams can get away with bad tackles and even worse behaviour and then you see a player being booked so easily at Arsenal?
It's silly as for a game of such importance, the referee doesn't have to rush into decisions, he should take his time, reflect on the situation and call the player over and give a warning. There is a process and I have a feeling the pressure of the game got to him and impacted decision making.
How damaging will the 3-0 defeat be on the team and what looks like a potential injury to Gabriel?
Hopefully it won't be damaging at all. They're still 1 point ahead, so it's all still in their hands and they've got the resources to come through it. They should sit down, talk it through and say, 'OK, we lost three nil but that isn't down to us, we were one man down and had a penalty go against us.'
They have to use that as motivation for the upcoming matches. They have to win, and if they do, there should be no questions about this team anymore. I'm not worried about Arsenal, the outcome at the end of the season for them will be good.
So, Arsenal are still your favourites to finish fourth? Do you think Spurs’ run-in is easier?
There are no easy games in the Premier League. Both of them have to focus on themselves, they both have to win. I don't care about Tottenham at all, I'm only focused on Arsenal and want them to win. They have the quality and mental strength to do it.
Arsenal have been heavily linked with moves to sign Gabriel Jesus and Youri Tielemans. Are they the right type of players Arsenal should be getting? How much impact can they make?
We're talking about quality players here so of course they can have an impact on the team. Whether they are necessary or not is another question. I'd say the most important position is the striker. Lacazette is coming to the end of his contract, Arsenal already have quality midfield players and Elneny who's doing really well.
So, I'm not sure whether they should cover more of the midfield position, we've got Partey too and he's important. In my mind they should focus on signing a centre back and a striker.
We have Xhaka who can play out from the back but that's only ever going to be a temporary solution in the event of injuries or suspensions. Signing a top centre back is something they need to do this summer transfer window.
Any other transfers you'd like to see Arsenal complete this summer?
Honestly, the team looks solid. All I'd look for now within those two positions are experienced players. Someone who can hold their head up when it's not going well. Someone who can help the team mentally and handle the pressure in big moments. If we'd had someone like this yesterday, they could have rallied the team after going down 1 nil and said, 'we don't concede any more goals and we work our way back into this game'.
I was worried about how Arsenal were going to perform this season, but they've proven me wrong. There's clearly a process and fans need to trust the process and keep the faith. Write them off next season if you want, but I'm sure in 2 seasons time, they'll be topping the league as champions.
So you think they can win the league in two seasons time?
Yes. If you look at how they played against Manchester City at the Emirates, they outplayed them. Not many teams can do that and to be able to outplay them you have to have a lot of confidence; a lot of quality and I didn't see any others play this way against City this season.
Even Liverpool didn't take it to them like this, so there are promising signs for the future.
How impressed have you been by Arteta? Was he deserving of a new contract?
Very and yes. I'm impressed by his mental strength. He came under a lot of scrutiny earlier in the season and that can't have been easy. I wouldn't have wanted to be in his position.
But I've known Mikel a long time now and I know for a fact he's always been a coach, whenever we were watching games together, he would talk to me about formations, what I was thinking and tactics.
For me I just wanted to go to the game and enjoy it! I didn't want to talk tactics, but the point is I'm not surprised he's the Arsenal manager at all, management is in his DNA.
William Saliba. Does he have a future at Arsenal?
I think he does. He had an amazing season with Marseille, it's a big club with a lot of pressure and he managed the situation perfectly. He's been one of their best players, his time isn't over with Arsenal. The club realised he needed to play and made the decision to let him out on loan. It's better to let a player leave, develop at one of the biggest teams in France, deal with the pressure of being a regular starter than have him sat around on the bench back home.
He's ready to come back to Arsenal now and play in the Premier League.
What should Eddie Nketiah do this summer? Can he trust Mikel Arteta to give him necessary game time next season (with European football now assured), or should he join a Prem rival?
He should stay. It's never been easy for him. He's never had an extended spell in the team, whenever he played it would be in a cup game, never a run of games. When you don't have the momentum, the physical aspect or the fitness required to play every couple of days, it's difficult. If you play only every few months, it's difficult to shine and show yourself as the best you can be.
But he's played a few games in a row now and demonstrated his ability and answered his critics perfectly. He's shown the world he's a top striker that can really help the club. He's a great addition to the team, he's scored some great goals and should think about committing his future to Arsenal.
You left Arsenal for Man City. Bukayo Saka has been linked with the same move at a much earlier stage of his career - would you have any advice for him in terms of his future?
The fans show a lot of love for him, and he's been incredibly important for a few years now. He's young, he's developing well, he's important for England and he needs to play every single game. You have to play to develop, I'm not sure he would have the same impact with City, the same type of play at City. But it's personal, it's a personal choice of his and how he feels and what he really wants.
Of course, there's a bigger structure at City as you have two top teams in one. At his age, he should take more time to think about what he wants, he should make sure he becomes a better player for his club before thinking about moving.
He has amazing potential and I think he could be one of the best players in Arsenal's history. He's doing amazing, he's a treat to watch, he's not scared, he's confident, he has everything. The last player I saw playing that way was Jack Wilshere.
He's a strong boy, he just wants to play, he doesn't want to talk. If I was him, I would have stayed. Look, I was at the club for seven years. The relation I had with the club was good, but I'm very sensitive about the details. I would have loved to stay; my dream was to feel more loved by the club. Sometimes you need extra love.
When I left the club, I didn't feel loved. I thought, look, I've been here for seven years, I've been here that long, maybe they've fallen out of love with me. So, I reached a point where I decided to go but I was 31 not 21.
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You were part of Pep Guardiola's City team when Monaco knocked them out of the Champions League in 2017, and they're still waiting to win the competition. Were there any issues from back in 2017 that you've still seen from them this season?
No, I don't think so. Back then we made some mistakes. We still won at home, but you can't concede 3 goals at home in the Champions League.
Playing away was difficult in the sense that they scored before us. We managed to come back mentally but it was a lack of focus in the last few minutes, and they scored. We won one game and lost the other.
Regarding this season it’s tough because they could have killed the game and they had so many chances. I was thinking “I hope they don't get punished”, but they did.
At the end they were 1-0 up and I was thinking it’s impossible for Madrid to come back. But they have done it so many times before, against Paris and against Chelsea, and now City too. In two minutes, the game was changed. It's sad because we are talking about a final they could have won.
Is Haaland the final piece in the puzzle to win the CL?
I think he will have a great impact and will fit in well. He likes to press he likes to fight, and he is clinical. For a long time now, City will have a tall striker so regarding crosses it might change.
It has been difficult for the team to cross but that will change now. Haaland scores a lot with his head, so he will fit in, he's the perfect player for City. He's probably the best young striker, with Mbappe. Benzema is the best but those two will be fighting for years to be the best.
As a former full-back, how impressed have you been with Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo this season? What does Pep Guardiola do on the training ground to improve his full-backs so much?
They are the two best at the moment. Walker has improved so much since his Spurs days and has added real consistency to his game. He's had one good season after another and the fact he didn't play against Real Madrid at home was a blow. It could have been different.
He's been a threat for any winger because he's playing really well. It would have been good to have him in the first game. Cancelo has been very exciting for the club, and I didn't think he would be so important for the club, in terms of scoring and creating goals, over the last couple of years. He's a great player.
Haaland aside, what other areas do City need to target in the summer transfer window?
They don't have to target anywhere; they are complete in every position. Maybe Left-back if I had to cover 1 position. But still, they have been doing well. But left-back they don't have a natural left-footer, so that would be the one position.
I like Theo Hernandez; he's playing really well and has potential. He has a bright future.
What are your thoughts on Guardiola's recent comments that 'everyone supports Liverpool?'
It's his personal opinion, maybe he said it because of the question he received. Maybe the pressure around the club and the title race. Maybe it's a personal feeling he has. It's hard to comment on that one.
People will always criticise City because they say Money changed the team. You cannot change that, but the players are performing well.
For me it shouldn't be that way, the focus should be what happens on the pitch. Salaries are roughly the same across all the big clubs, so players signing for City are not doing it for money, they are signing because of Pep and because they are doing it to be surrounded by the best in the world.
What was Pep's adjustment to English football like as player at the time?
He came to the club, and it was like a good storm. He managed to change the diet of everyone at the club. All the players became more self-disciplined. Even now my diet is different because of him.
What did he do exactly?
He makes you eat right. He has nutritionists who are in touch with the players, and we had blood tests to maximise fitness and know which aspects we should improve.
He's very well organised and changes you as a person as well because you know and you realise how important these things are. Being overweight has a massive impact on injuries and performances. So many aspects changed, but you realised if you listen to it and stick to the plan you progress as a player.
The first year was a blow because everyone expected the team to be champions but there is a process with everything and the following season, they reached 100 points. So, it’s not a broken science, the impact he's having is great. A lot of players including myself are now starting as coaches because of Pep.
Will you be becoming a coach in the future?
I'm not, I’m doing something different, I want to have an impact on kids and have maybe a direct impact on people by explaining to them what I had a chance to learn with different coaches. I want them to have football DNA - this is what I'm doing now rather than being on the bench.
There is plenty of talk about Raheem Sterling's future. His contract is currently set to expire in 2023 and Arsenal are said to be interested. What's the best outcome for Sterling and the club?
It depends if he believes in the project; it depends how Man City feel about him. I think he is respected a lot; we want him to stay because he's been massive to our club, and he has been amazing.
He’s spent more time on the bench towards the end of the season but being on the bench with Pep it doesn't mean you didn't perform well because every game is different.
Sometimes you play three games in a row, and you will then be sitting on the bench the next because the game doesn’t suit your strengths and weaknesses. With Pep, you cannot think 'oh I've been good I have to play', because sometimes your style of play won't fit the game and it will in another game.
Likewise, Gabriel Jesus is also being linked with Arsenal but has hit a rich vein of form recently. Does he have a future at City despite Erling Haaland's arrival?
I believe he will stay at the club; I don't see him playing anywhere else, he belongs to Manchester City.
He can still have such a big impact at the club. He’s scored many goals, so he’s very important. The way he presses, the way he is tight with the ball, he's a different style but he's a key player still for Man City so I don't see him leaving.
I don't see him performing for another team. I personally think he should stay because they are very close to winning the Champions League.
Moving back to Arsenal for a minute, there has been a lot of discussion over the future captain, would you want to see Martin Odergaard become the skipper? Theres been a lot of fanfare around him, or do you think another player would make a better choice?
Well, he’s been having such a big impact since he first came on loan, he’s added value and deserves to have more responsibilities. So yes, I believe he can lead the team. He has the maturity, he’s got experience from playing at a huge club like Real Madrid and he plays for his national team, so definitely a good choice for captain.
Arsene Wenger is famed for his calm demeanour, how do you think he would have dealt with the Aubameyang situation?
The Aubameyang situation is difficult because people don't know what the player wants, you don't know if he is still himself in terms of the project, it’s tricky.
You have the desire of the player, the desire for the club, what’s good for the club and what is good for the team. At the end of the day, he had a fantastic career with Arsenal, he played with passion, and he did his best for the club. Sometimes if you don't see yourself and the club going in the same direction it’s time to separate.
I think there is still a lot of respect from one part to the other and Aubameyang deserves the respect for what he did for Arsenal. He was club captain and maybe what comes out in the press is different to what really happened.
We don't know what happened at the football club - that is difficult to know, and I think both parties are happy now.
He’s at Barcelona and is doing great, the fact that he left gave a chance to Eddie. So, you should just be respectful and be grateful to have had the player that he was, and he should be very proud to have played for Arsenal because it is a fantastic club.
Who do you think is the best right-back in the world and why?
Kyle Walker. He has maturity, he has everything. Consistency, natural physicality, understanding, he has everything for me.
And looking to the future, who do you think is the best young and up and coming right back?
Trent Alexander-Arnold. He is surely the next one, he is fantastic. He’s been so good for such a long time, it’s crazy to say as he’s only 23. He’s won some major games and major trophies, he already won the Champions League and I think he can have a big impact with England at the next world cup, he has everything.
People criticise him for defending, but you know it’s a momentum game where sometimes you expose yourself going forward. But I think for me he is at the top honestly, you cannot be judging on one action, two actions where you are out of position - you have to rely on the ability of the whole team defensively, he is doing amazing.
Who would you think is the greatest defender of all time and why?
Carlos Puyol - I wouldn't like to be a striker and be playing against him. Physically, he was a monster. He was eating your back heel and he was fully focussed on defending.
He didn't want to hear about stories, he didn't want to hear complaining, he just wanted the players to focus no matter what on the action in game.
And that is the quality you need to have as a leader. You see players these days on social media complaining - he just keeps everyone around him grounded and tells them to forget about the outside world. No matter whether you’re playing in a hostile stadium, or your forward gets too confident when they score and they start dancing, he would come for them and remind them of their responsibilities - he's honestly a great example for humility and dedication.
He was fully dedicated to the sport, to the club he was at and an amazing captain, so yes Carlos Puyol I’d say was the best ever.
What do you think will be going through Harry Kane's mind right now, he wanted to join City last season but that fell through now Haaland has joined, where do think his head is with the club?
He is thinking after that last game that his future lies even more with Tottenham. He is thinking about qualifying for the Champions League with them, he is not thinking at the minute to what’s coming next transfer wise.
He is professional, he will be thinking he has to finish the games, then he will have time to think about his future. I don’t see him thinking about where he will be going next. The Champions League was his dream - he is respected at the club he plays for, he’s a regular for England, so he’ll be in a good place. Last season’s transfer saga is in the past.
One last one on Arsenal, you were at the club when the likes of Fabregas and van Persie all left, do you think they have now got better at responding to the loss of their stars and do you think they might have even benefitted of getting rid of some players this season like Aubameyang?
It’s always difficult to keep a player who wants to leave. It’s not clever to keep someone who wants to go, you’re better off giving a chance to a young player or getting in someone who really wants to be at the club.
You need people who will give 100% every game. The club is more important than anyone else - this is the first value of any serious football club, and this is what they did with every single one of us at Arsenal.
They did the right thing by letting Aubameyang go as you do not want to have someone at the club where the focus is on them. You invite a media circus which distracts the team. Nobody would stop talking about Aubameyang’s case for weeks, when they should be talking about what is most important which is the team. I believe they have to stay strong on what they want, and the club is making great progress here.
The last time we spoke you mentioned Mikel did a mean BBQ, were there any other mangers like Pep who put on BBQ event for players and were they any good cooks?
Yeah, very good, well Pep didn't cook but he used to organise different ways for doing lunch, a bit more relaxed it was more like a gathering.
Mikel was doing it at home with players, it was really nice to spend time with each other, where you can speak differently with your teammates and discover more about them. You spend time with them, and their families and it is totally different to how they are in a work setting.
I think in a football club it is important to have that type of relationship with players because on the pitch we are family, we have to fight with the same desire and with the same end goal.
You don’t necessarily have to be friends on the pitch, but I think it is a big addition when you are friends, and you appreciate each other.
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