Bacary Sagna on the best FIFA player at Arsenal, the Premier League title race & more
Bacary Sagna spent a decade in the Premier League, and knows more than a little about this season's title race, having made appearances for both first-placed Arsenal and second-placed Manchester City.
GGRecon got to sit down with the former France full-back to talk about the title tilt, memories of Mikel Arteta as a player, and who could finish in the top 4 this season.
Bacary Sagna on the Premier League title race and playing FIFA against Theo Walcott
Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what’s your console of choice and what’s your game of choice?
I was playing on the Playstation of course and FIFA was obviously my game of choice. It’s football and football is my life, so I found it easy to learn the game and how to play. I didn’t play on the Xbox as I didn’t like the controllers because they were too big. I also enjoyed other games such as Call of Duty.
Who was the best player at FIFA in the Arsenal dressing room?
Theo Walcott was quite good and he used to wind us up a lot whenever he was playing. He was always anticipating what he was going to do. It was funny as he managed to create a lot of hate towards him (laughs), but I do believe Theo was the best.
- EA has reportedly agreed a huge Premier League deal for its FIFA successor.
Onto the football, Arsenal and Manchester City, two of your former sides, continue to fight it out for the Premier League title this season. Who do you believe is going to go all the way?
Good question. I’d like Arsenal to be the champions. I enjoy the driving spirit they have, I like the way they play and for me, they’re the side that’s played the most beautiful football this season. They’ve got some tricky games coming now, against some very good teams and I think their fixture list looks more difficult than Manchester City’s. They also have to play Manchester City away at the Etihad.
I’m not sure if Manchester City will drop points and they’ll continue to put pressure on Arsenal for the rest of the season. Before they both face off at the Etihad, Arsenal have to go away to Liverpool, and then after their trip to Manchester, they need to go away to Chelsea and Newcastle United. They’re going to have to deal with these big games and it’s going to be very tight.
Your former teammate Mikel Arteta has done a fantastic job with this Arsenal side this season. When you played with him, did you ever envision that he could go on to be a potential Premier League title-winning manager?
No I wouldn’t say that. I knew he had talent and I knew he had the desire to become a coach. It was in him and he was always talking about tactics. I used to go watch the El Clásico fixtures at his house sometimes and he was always discussing the tactics and what each manager was going to do before the game had started, so he always had that tactical aspect watching football.
It has to be in you to be a manager and it has to be an obsession for you. As a captain, he always had that obsession and he had an influence in the dressing room. As a coach, he has that obsession to teach and make the team play the way he wants them to play.
Do you believe that William Saliba has the potential to become the best center-back in the Premier League?
I think he has the potential to be up there. He has those natural qualities and he has the physique, which is very important. It was important for him to go out on loan and get himself game time and now he’s come back to Arsenal and become an important player for them.
He was criticized a lot when he first joined the club and was obviously not happy with his involvement but it was a smart decision to go away to Marseille, where he was arguably their best player last season. He’s now got himself into the French national team and is ensuring everybody why Arsenal got him in the first place.
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Do you believe Arsenal having Gabriel Jesus back from injury is going to give them a greater advantage in the title race?
Oh massive. We’re all aware of his qualities and the center-forward position is possibly the most fragile area of this Arsenal squad. I believe he’ll be fully fresh, he has that title-winning experience and I believe he will be a key player for them between now and the end of the season.
He has a lot to prove and I’m sure he will seek his revenge for being injured and will be ready to help the team. I think it’s the right time for him to get back into the squad and be able to answer all the questions against him. Everyone was wondering whether he was strong enough to come back from injury and whether he was good enough to be decisive for the club.
As he was out for so long, he will still need time to come back to his best and even against Fulham at the weekend, everybody could see the desire he had and he could have even scored after five minutes. His return is a very good thing for Arsenal.
Your former teammate Raheem Sterling is being linked with a move to Arsenal from Chelsea, who he only joined in July. Do you believe it would be too soon for Sterling to depart Stamford Bridge? Are you confident he can still be a success at Chelsea and would you love to see him at Arsenal? Would Arsenal’s style of football be more suitable to Raheem?
It’s difficult to say. Surely Chelsea want to keep him and I’m sure he’s happy at Chelsea. I’m sure he wants to show everybody why Chelsea signed him, so for that reason I can’t see him joining Arsenal.
Arsenal missed out on the signing of Moisés Caicedo in the January transfer window, but continue to be linked with him ahead of the summer transfer window. Do you believe the signing of Jorginho nullifies the need for Arsenal to sign Caicedo?
The current Arsenal midfield is strong and consistent, so I don’t know if they need somebody else at the moment. We will see whether Arsenal can sign Declan Rice, but Caicedo has only just signed a new deal at Brighton so it would be even more difficult for Arsenal to go out and spend more money.
To me, Declan has more of an impact for his team, he’s tall and has very good technical quality. He can also be effective defensively and offensively, so for me, you’d rather Arsenal tried to sign Declan Rice instead of Moisés Caicedo.
Another central midfielder that’s constantly linked with a move to Arsenal is Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans. He’s available on a free transfer this summer, if he continues to not sign a new deal with Leicester, so in your opinion, do you believe it’s a signing that Arsenal should make considering that he’s not going to cost the club a penny in terms of a transfer fee?
You have to be smart about what you want. If it’s a case of whether you want to sign the best players, then you’ve got to say that Declan Rice has more quality than Youri Tielemans and I say that with no disrespect to Youri.
If Arsenal want to build one of the world’s best teams then they should be thinking about which players will improve their squad rather than how much money they can save. For Arsenal to continue this progression they’re showing, it would make sense for them to continue spending money now on the right players that are going to improve their squad. You want to have the most competitive team possible.
Reiss Nelson, who saved his club last week in Arsenal’s 3-2 victory over Bournemouth, could leave the club this summer with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Do you believe it’s essential that Arsenal offer Reiss a new contract or do you believe Reiss is still going to find game time limited at the club next season and should seek pastures new?
Of course, his game time will be limited next season but whenever you see him come on for Arsenal, he has a direct impact so for me he has the quality to play for this team. He’s shown the club that they can trust him and have confidence in him, so I believe he should get a new contract offer and if he continues to impress, then at the end of the season he will be in an even stronger position to discuss the conditions of a new contract with the club.
Barcelona are said to need to raise £178 million to enter the transfer market this summer, according to LaLiga chief Javier Tebas. Raphinha is reportedly one of the players that Barcelona are considering selling in order of raising funds and Arsenal are said to be interested. Given that he’s already impressed in the Premier League previously, do you think he’d be an excellent signing for your former club?
Raphinha is a right winger and Arsenal already have Bukayo Saka, so I don’t see any reason for Arsenal signing him as he wouldn’t get in their team ahead of Saka. On the left side you have Gabriel Martenelli who’s still developing as a player, so I don’t think signing Raphinha would be a priority for the club.
And finally, on Arsenal, do you believe that they will continue to compete at the top of the Premier League next season?
I believe they will be competitive and they will be able to cope with the pressure as they’ve done so this season. The fact that they’ve been able to win difficult games from losing positions, using the game against Bournemouth as an example, is a strong statement.
Everybody was expecting them to collapse but they’re not collapsing, even when they were struggling. They always find a way to score and that's a trait of a top team.
Your former teammate Kevin De Bruyne hasn’t started two of Manchester City’s last three Premier League games. Considering they’re in a gripping title race, are you shocked by Kevin’s limited game time in recent weeks?
No. Maybe his qualities are not suited to the way that Pep Guardiola wants his team to play at this very moment. He needs to accept it and maybe he needs more time to recover because he’s been playing a lot over the last three, four years. He’s a human being before anything else and maybe they want him to prepare his energy for the end of the season. He will be back as soon as his manager needs him and I’m sure he will do well for the club when called upon.
How shocked were you to see João Cancelo depart Manchester City in January? Do you believe he still has a future at the club once his loan deal at Bayern Munich expires?
Of course, I was surprised when he left because he was a key player for the club. You have to have a different mindset when you play for Manchester City and know that you’re not going to play every game.
Sometimes you can be sat on the bench for a month if the coach isn’t happy with what you’re doing or sometimes the coach can be happy with your performances but he may feel like another player suits a certain game or a certain style of play better. It may not be down to your personality or your form, sometimes it may just be a case of how the manager wants the team to play.
Perhaps the manager finds a greater balance playing someone like Kyle Walker or Nathan Aké over Cancelo. Cancelo is a brilliant player offensively but defensively his side was conceding too many goals, so Pep Guardiola possibly wanted to make his side stronger defensively. João was possibly frustrated as he would want to play every game and that’s why he probably wanted to leave in January.
Your former teammate Vincent Kompany has done a wonderful job at Burnley this season. Do you see him having a top job in world football in the future? Is he a future Manchester City manager in your opinion?
He’s done fantastically for Burnley. He’s made them very solid and Burnley are going to be back in the Premier League next season which is good for Vincent and the club as a whole. I believe that Vincent will have another season at Burnley and then I’m sure he will be the manager of a bigger club in the future.
Manchester City? He loves the club, he was the captain and he was one of the first players to join the project. He is Mr Manchester City, so I’m sure he will return to the club in the future, either as an assistant manager or manager. That would suit him perfectly but I’m sure that Manchester City will be happy with having Pep Guardiola as their manager at this point in time and I’m sure they’d like to have him there for a long time. Let’s see.
Which four sides do you believe will finish in the top four this season alongside Arsenal and Manchester City?
Newcastle United and Tottenham. The funny thing with Manchester United is that you never know what to expect from them before a game. Sometimes they can be fantastic but sometimes you question the commitment of the players and the game against Liverpool is an example of that. It’s almost like they never all turn up at the same time.
Marcus Rashford could be shining, but other players will be out of the game. I’m not sure they’ll finish in the top four and I can see Tottenham being in there more than Manchester United. Newcastle United have a game in hand and I can see them coming back, so they’re in a strong position at the moment.
For more gaming and football talk with Premier League legends, be sure to check out our discussion with David James.