Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie.
Arsenal fans have been a little bit abusive and pretty damn hostile to returning players in recent seasons.
For various reasons, and to varying degrees, they have all deserved some criticism and perhaps some of the pantomime treatment when playing against the Gunners. Ashley Cole was the first to leave on poor terms, and ever since the Arsenal fans haven’t help back telling ex-players exactly what they think.
After a year on the bench at Manchester City, Bacary Sagna will play at the Emirates as visitor for the first time on Monday night, and he deserves a fantastic reception. Each week at Arsenal, a former player returns to speak to the fans at half-time. The last home game, against Sunderland, saw invincible Gilberto Silva given a rousing ovation as he stepped out of the tunnel and Sagna deserves the same.
Joining the club in 2007, his peers named him the best right-back in the Premier League at the end of the first season, awarding him with the first of two appearances in the PFA team of the year. The following six seasons saw Sagna establish himself as one of the most consistent performers at Arsenal, despite the inconsistency of results.
The backline was constantly changing, the midfield was often weak or just had no defensive nous, and the goalkeepers were usually unconvincing. Unlike many of his teammates, including partners in the defence, Sagna rose above all of those issues to deliver each and every week.
His crosses were never good, but his excellently timed runs into the final third served as a superb way to stretch the opposition. Defensively he was one of the best in the Premier League, rivalled only by Ashley Cole as a fullback. The level of performance wasn’t just high, it was also constant.
The only times Sagna struggled in his Arsenal career were when he was returning from serious injuries. Even then, the Frenchman kept his place and worked harder. His goal to get Arsenal back to 2-1 in the first famous 5-2 north London derby win will stay with me forever.
And, finally, he won the FA Cup.
After seven seasons playing at the very highest level, no player deserved to win something with Arsenal more than he did in May 2014. After a disappointing season in Manchester, he’s now keeping Pablo Zabaleta out of the team and I, for one, am delighted for him.
For a long time, Bacary Sagna was the best right-back in the Premier League. It’s a shame he doesn’t have a Premier League winners medal to show for it (and I hope that doesn’t change), because he deserves one. Arsenal, meanwhile, have managed to move on.
Unlike with the sales of Adebayor, Fabregas, Nasri and van Persie, which either left fans watching inadequate replacements or squad players promoted too soon, Arsenal have a viable and quality long-term replacement for Sagna, giving even less reason to jeer him when his name is read out on Monday evening.
For a little while Mathieu Debuchy appeared to be another downgrade on a position where Arsenal boasted one of the finest players in the league, but Héctor Bellerín has since emerged and proven he has all the ability to be worthy of becoming Arsenal’s, and the Premier League’s, heir to Sagna.
Debuchy’s struggles this (and last) season were a brief scare. Should he have kept his place, maybe Sagna would have received a poor reception from more unhappy Arsenal fans. However, injuries and form have seen Sagna reclaim his place in the French national team, while Bellerín has become unchallenged as Arsenal’s number one right-back.
Manchester City signed a superb and experienced right-back, and he got the move he wanted after seven incredible years of performing for Arsenal fans. Now in the team, Sagna must be pretty pleased with how things are going.
In the meantime, we not get to watch Héctor Bellerín every week, and will hopefully do so for a long time. Sagna’s happy, Bellerín’s the future, and I’m happy for everyone involved. So, don’t be petulant, give Sagna the reception his time at Arsenal warrants and enjoy Bellerín’s performance on Monday evening.