Bacary Sagna is closing on his 200th appearance for Arsenal in the season where he has arguably been the most pivotal figure in the Gunners’ recovery.
The France international has been one of the most reliable players for Arsene Wenger’s side since he moved to the Emirates Stadium from Auxerre in 2007 and has become one of the best full-backs in the Premier League.
Sagna came to the Premier League as a relative unknown but his combination of hard running and physicality made him the ideal prototype for a player in his position to be successful in England.
In the early stages of his Gunners career he was competing for the right back spot with Emmanuel Eboue, but the new man’s superior defensive stability meant he was soon first choice in the position – also because of Wenger’s aborted attempt to turn the Ivory Coast international into a right-sided midfielder.
Sagna has made the position his own form then on and is one of the most important players in Wenger’s side.
He will be expected to start against QPR this weekend and will be the 199th occasion he has appeared in an Arsenal shirt, which means he will reach the milestone against Manchester City the following week – provided nothing highly unfortunate happens before then.
It is fitting that he should make his 200th appearance in a season where his importance to Arsenal’s success has been highlighted so clearly.
He was injured on October 2 in the loss to Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane and missed the best part of the next four months, where his absence was compounded by long-term injuries to all of Arsenal’s full-backs.
The effect he has had on the team’s defence has been obvious as they now do not look so vulnerable down their right hand side and the balance of the side has improved a great deal.
However, it is in the attacking department where the 29-year-old’s return has had the most significant benefit and this is best seen in the return to form of Theo Walcott.
The young England attacker was being hounded by fans and commentators alike for the middle part of the season, where he just could not seem to find any confidence or form. He cut a desperate figure.
The Frenchman’s recovery has allowed Walcott greater freedom in wide areas and his defensive duties, while not going away, have been greatly reduced.
Sagna provides better quality support when attacking opposition flanks than the covering centre-halves; his is passing more incisive and he also has significantly more accomplished at crossing the ball.
Kieran Gibbs has had a similar effect on the opposite flank but Sagna seems to possess a leadership quality that few in the squad can produce and his determination is a fantastic example to the rest of the team.
The turning point in Arsenal’s season was sparked by this exact desire to succeed and never accept defeat.
This moment came in the 40th minute of the north London derby at the Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal were trailing Tottenham 2-0 and were facing a 13 point gap between them and their rivals in third place.
They has just been thrashed 4-0 in Milan and were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Sunderland at the Stadium of Light – things were looking glum once more.
The Gunners had poured forward in search of a goal to get back in the game before half time and, after Robin van Persie’s shot had hit the post, Mikel Arteta floated the ball across the box where Sagna was lurking to thump home the header.
As well as making the score 2-1, it began an astonishing comeback with the game finishing 5-2 and continuing a winning streak in the league that has now lasted seven games.
This streak has seen Wenger’s side make up the points on their rivals and now sit three points clear of them in the Premier League’s third spot.
The season is not over yet and caution must be exercised, but anything positive Arsenal achieve will be a lot to do with their latest double centurion.