Ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City, Bacary Sagna reveals why he left north London, admits that the Gunners’ DNA faded during his time there and backs Mikel Arteta to turn around his side’s awful start to the Premier League season
- Bacary Sagna spent seven years at Arsenal before moving to Manchester City
- In doing so, he followed the likes of Samir Nasri and Kolo Toure in moving north
- Sagna felt that his unwillingness to push himself held him back in his career
- The Frenchman feels the club’s DNA started to fade while he was at the club
- Despite recent struggles, Sagna backs Mikel Arteta to turn things around
- Sagna also paid tribute to Arsene Wenger – and says fans treated him harshly
Swapping the Emirates for the Etihad almost became a rite of passage for an Arsenal player by the time Bacary Sagna joined Manchester City in 2014.
Nearly every other season the full-back watched as Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy all headed up the M6 seeking pastures new, and after seven years of service to ‘the club of my life’, Sagna decided, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’
Arsene Wenger’s men had just won the FA Cup but were coming under fire after another failed title race and settling for fourth place. How Arsenal fans would bite your hand off for a similar predicament today.
Bacary Sagna joined Manchester City in 2014 after seven seasons at Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal
The full back played 284 times for the Gunners – but had just one FA Cup to show for his efforts
Sagna saw the likes of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor move north before doing the same
Hungry for regular silverware, Sagna signed for the Premier League champions on a free transfer, a decision he admits may have irked some Arsenal supporters, but one that forced him to ‘get out of my comfort zone’, something he could not do in north London.
‘I needed something different and I had it with City,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘I found a team that were already champions, a team who were competitive in every single position.
‘I spent six years on the same contract and never complained. I always committed to the team, but at some point I felt I had to change myself, get out of my comfort zone and compete for something which was not mine.’
As it turned out, Sagna missed out on the title during his three years with City. He won the same number of trophies – a sole League Cup in his debut season – but it was the desire to be part of a team fighting for every major honour that proved to be the strongest pull.
‘[City] was something very different to what I had with Arsenal, I had to fight for my position and if I didn’t have a good game I could find myself on the bench.
‘It was quite challenging for me but it gave me more years at the top level and with the national team in France.
‘As a person I always try to challenge myself. It was not easy, but I knew I had to leave the club I loved.’
For Sagna – now retired after rounding off his playing days with Benevento and MLS side Montreal Impact – his loyalties will lie with Arsenal when his two old sides go head-to-head at the Etihad this weekend.
These are dark days for the Gunners having made their worst-ever start to a Premier League season.
The Frenchman does not regret moving despite City’s lack of success during his time there
The now-retired Sagna will be rooting for Arsenal when his old sides lock horns on Saturday
It’s only been two games, but Sagna’s former team-mate Mikel Arteta is already facing pressure after a dismal display against newcomers Brentford and a toothless effort against Chelsea.
Sagna admits seeing the team’s plight today makes him ‘upset’ and is adamant that the team have ‘lost their DNA’ – a trend he feels started with his generation, a group of players who were ‘too nice’ and struggled to assert their authority in big games without a dominating figurehead like Patrick Vieira.
‘Of course I’m disappointed – when I see the club losing it makes me upset, you overreact,’ he continued.
‘I was a player but I react like a fan. When you see things the way it shouldn’t be, it’s upsetting.
‘When I said the DNA from the club is gone, before you used to think about Arsenal with Vieira, [Thierry] Henry and Ray Parlour, Emmanuel Petit – they were killers.
‘We started to let it go, we were too nice. What was the identity of United with Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand? They were the first ones to hammer people, to scare people.
Sagna feels that the club’s DNA – enforced by people like Patrick Vieira – has seeped away
‘Arsenal lost that and we are the first ones to blame. When we played a bigger team we used to struggle and that was a big part of it.
‘If we had a Vieira, someone to put the hand on the table say, ‘Now we’re going to show them we are strong’, maybe it would have been different. We missed that.
‘Now it’s even worse. Arsenal have amazing players, [in terms of skill] they are ahead of many teams, but the mental side… that’s where teams are making the difference.
‘When you know players are better than you, you try to intimidate them. This is what’s happening every single game.’
Now 38, Sagna is surprisingly candid about his own mentality and demeanour during his time at the Emirates.
It’s clear he is a more laid-back character while speaking to him – not all players can be vocal extroverts.
Sagna admits the club lost their aura while he was there – and feels things have worsened since
But it is his reserved manner that he feels held him back in his career. He wants every Arsenal player to follow the lead of midfielder Granit Xhaka and let out their fiery side.
The Swiss star might not be every Arsenal fan’s cup of tea after infamously swearing at the crowd in 2019, but Sagna believes the Arsenal squad is crying out for more ‘personality’ that can help turn the squad into winners.
‘I was too shy,’ he admits. ‘That’s why I respect Granit Xhaka. If he has to say something bad, he says something bad.
‘If he wants to argue with a fan, he will argue with a fan. He has a big personality and is a top player.
Sagna has respect for Granit Xhaka’s vocal nature despite criticism of his performances
‘If you want to be a top player, you need to get out of your comfort zone. That’s what I didn’t do.
‘Patrice Evra used to say ‘they are babies’ about Arsenal. But I will always respect him because he had the personality we were missing. When we had to face adversity, we didn’t do it as well as [Manchester United] did.
‘I would try to tell young players – don’t waste time on letting go what you feel inside. Time flies.
‘When I see [PSG full-back] Achraf Hakimi today, he is exactly the way I should have been.
‘He is a good player but he doesn’t care – he goes 100 per cent. I was giving 80 or 90 per cent. I was thinking, ‘what if we lose a goal and I put the team in trouble?’. I could have been more decisive.’
There is nothing indecisive about his faith in current Gunners boss Arteta – who goes up against former mentor and Sagna’s old boss Pep Guardiola on Saturday.
Sagna says Arsenal missed the character of compatriot and long-time rival player Patrice Evra
Sagna played alongside the Spaniard at Arsenal for three years and could see immediately that he was cut out for the dugout.
He recalled spending a night watching football at his house with other Arsenal players, and the former Everton star would be ‘fascinated’ by the way in which certain teams played.
He pleaded with the Gunners board not to pull the trigger on their head coach and give him time to bed in his philosophy just as Guardiola was given the patience to transform Manchester City.
‘When you’re a manager, you are the first to be criticised, but he’s doing a good job,’ he added.
‘You can see the way players are trying to develop and take risks, it takes some courage.
‘When Pep first came to City we made many mistakes, we struggled in the first year. Eventually we became the team they are today.
Sagna has faith that Mikel Arteta will turn things around after a tough start to the campaign
Pep Guardiola struggled during his first term at the Etihad before enjoying sustained success
‘It will take time and I have faith in [Arteta] because I know his personality, the way he is.
‘He won’t give up and I hope the club will give him faith and time to build a strong team.
‘You have to be honest yourself and with Arsenal players today – something is missing. Mikel will find that something.’
Arsene Wenger bore the brunt of most criticism from the fans during Sagna’s time at Arsenal, but before the Frenchman finally called time on his 22-year reign in 2018, there was a feeling from supporters he had outstayed his welcome.
More than three years on from his exit, the Gunners are no closer to rejoining the world’s elite after a failed spell under Unai Emery as Arteta continues to struggle in his attempts to shift the attitude at the club.
Sagna finds it hard to understand the frustration aimed at someone who won ten major trophies for the club and feels fans might have been ‘sensitive’ about him after becoming used to success at the club and may have been too harsh to call for his sacking.
Wenger managed his final game for Arsenal in May 2018 after nearly 22 seasons at the helm
However, his final years were marred by fan unrest as many called for the Frenchman’s sacking
‘It was harsh how fans reacted, he didn’t deserve that,’ he said. ‘When you’re a fan you want your team to succeed.
‘At the time Arsenal were not shining – people don’t understand it when you struggle and we don’t understand when a top player struggles.
‘With Wenger, they knew he was a top coach, they were a bit sensitive. It hurts to see something you love struggling. To me it was a bit harsh.’
He also reserved special praise for Wenger for offering him support during a turbulent time in his personal life.
In 2008, just a year after signing for Arsenal, his brother Omar died suddenly at the age of just 28.
He will always remember the coach for sticking ‘by his side’ during the ordeal and keeping faith with him despite his emotional struggles in a dark time.
Sagna has remembered Wenger’s kindness towards him after his brother Omar died in 2008
‘[Wenger] was a huge part of my life as a player, but personally too – especially when I lost my brother and it was not easy,’ he said.
‘He played a big part because emotionally you’re not at your best. When you play you have to keep performing and shining you need someone to be by your side.
‘In my second season I was closed off, a lot was happening. I found it difficult but he always played me and showed me faith. I’ll be forever grateful for that. The club treated me fantastically.’
As some fans now look back on Wenger’s reign with fondness after spending five years outside the top four, Sagna has now called for patience as the club continue to roam in the wilderness and piece together the crumbling empire Wenger left behind.
‘It’s not easy to go after Arsene Wenger, he was so successful – you have to rebuild everything,’ he says. ‘It takes years. The fans have to understand that.
‘I want the club to succeed now – maybe I’ll be harsh sometimes on the team because deep inside I know the club deserves better.
‘No one is cheating on this team. You need to keep your personality, that’s the main quality of the team when you are struggling. None of them are hiding.’
Bacary Sagna was speaking to MailOnline in conjunction with William Hill
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