Welcome to the first edition of Sardines From The Trawler, a column on world football that will run Monday through Friday on SB Nation. The Premier League, Champions League, MLS, Serie A and La Liga will be regular fixtures in the column, but also expect us to touch on the Europa League, Mexican Primera, Bundesliga, Copa Libertadores, African Cup of Nations, and anything else interesting that's taking place in the world of football.
This column's name comes from a famous Eric Cantona quote. At a press conference following his kicking of a fan that would eventually lead to an eight-month ban from English football, Cantona stated, "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much." He was referring to the football press in England and how they follow footballers, just waiting for them to make a mistake that they can jump on.
The inaugural column touches on Bacary Sagna's injury, how Arsenal will struggle to get on without him, and how it's all Arsene Wenger's fault.
Following the first North London Derby of the 2011-12 Premier League season, Arsenal sit in 15th place in the league. Their 16 goals conceded is the third highest total in the league, only better than the bottom two sides, Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers. In six of those games, Bacary Sagna started. After breaking his leg against Tottenham Hotspur, he's set to miss three months.
In October, no one injury should shatter any club, or at least any club with the financial resources and aspirations of Arsenal. All of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have at least two players with extensive professional experience that can play in every position on the pitch. Every team, that is, except Arsenal.
Sagna's backup is 19-year-old Carl Jenkinson, recently purchased from Charlton Athletic. Though Jenkinson is a talented player with a bright future, he played just eight times for Charlton before his transfer. At Arsenal, he's been thrown directly into the fire. On Sunday, after coming in for Sagna, Jenkinson was easily beaten for pace and muscled off the ball by Gareth Bale on multiple occasions. He's simply not up to this standard of play at this point at his career, which is hardly even a criticism. The number of 19-year-old right backs in the world who are worthy of starting for a Champions League club in a top European league can probably be counted on one hand.
Though Sagna isn't exceedingly popular with Arsenal fans, he is still a reliable, Champions League-quality right back. He doesn't have the pace of Jose Bosingwa, the flair of Rafael da Silva, or the pure athletic ability of Micah Richards, but he is unquestionable one of the better right backs in the Premier League and a solid, consistent performer. He is, at the absolute worst, very serviceable. Somehow, a club the size of Arsenal do not have a legitimate professional backup.
They'll get by with someone who isn't an abject embarrassment. Most likely, Jenkinson won't be starting in that spot for the next three straight months as a more experienced player - albeit out of position - takes his place. The alternatives to Jenkinson are perhaps improvements, but only slightly.
Alex Song is likely capable of playing at right back, but he's currently filling in at central defense for the perpetually injured Thomas Vermaelen. Andre Santos might be a decent option, but he's been exclusively a left-sided player for the majority of his career. Francis Coquelin has played some right back before, but he's not much more experienced than Jenkinson. Johan Djourou, who has played right back in a pinch, is also injured. There are simply no good options.
Injuries happen to every club and they're impossible to avoid, but for most clubs, it is possible to avoid an injury completely destroying a team. Arsenal, like any club of their stature, had just that ability but chose not to take advantage of it.
Arsene Wenger went into the transfer window knowing that he had just one right back on his roster. He went into the transfer window also knowing that his star attacking players, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, were likely to be subject to large bids that would leave him with a transfer surplus. Despite the fact that he had this knowledge and these financial means, Wenger blatantly ignored the information at his disposal and chose not to purchase a right back.
Whether he did this out of blissful ignorance, sheer arrogance or downright incompetence is both up for debate and rather pointless to debate. It's impossible to get inside of Wenger's head. This is not relevant, though. What's relevant is that due to some kind of thought process that was not based in reality, Wenger chose not to buy cover for Sagna. Now Sagna is injured and he is without a true right back. Arsenal did not lose another right back unexpectedly late in the window and they are not a club of severely limited financial resources. This is Wenger's mistake and his mistake alone.
Arsenal are now, at best, the sixth best team in England. With their current squad and injury list, it would be extremely difficult to argue that they are as good as Tottenham Hotspur or Liverpool. They are significantly inferior to Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Between Arsenal's revenues and the financial resources that have been pumped into their youth system, this should simply not happen.
This can't be blamed on money when Tottenham's revenues are significantly lower than their North London rivals. It can't be blamed on Cesc Fabregas and his lack of professionalism when Tottenham managed to hang onto their disgruntled superstar. It can't be blamed on injuries, those happen to everyone.
Arsenal were going to struggle for fourth place with a completely healthy Bacary Sagna, and now that he's gone until December, they're serious underdogs to retain a Champions League place. The blame falls solely on the shoulders of one man.
When Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal, he not only revolutionized the club, but English football as a whole with his knowledge of foreign players, nutrition, and a more continental style of play. As quick as he built the Gunners into a world power, he's in the process of bringing them back to their old status as a big club, but one that is only occasionally relevant.
Sardines From The Trawler runs Monday through Friday on SB Nation. This article and all future articles will be accessible in the Sardines From The Trawler Archives.