By Daniel Cowan
When it became apparent that Bacary Sagna would not be staying at Arsenal, emotions among the faithful ranged from mildly perturbed, to genuinely timorous to downright panic-stricken over our defensive future and the potential of undoing the hard work of the past few years.
Arsenal has laid foundations for the future with new commercial deals elevating them to the big-boy table in terms of transfers and finally winning a trophy again. Losing a player like Sagna, arguably the best and most consistent right back in the Premier League of the past seven years, would be an issue for any club, but with a seeming lack of replacements on the market it looked to be potentially devastating.
Losing Sagna wasn’t just about losing a top quality right back, we were also losing a pretty decent auxiliary centre back, so in effect were losing two players. How was Arsene Wenger going to address this? Our new financial firepower is something quite a few are still coming to terms with but, before the end of the World Cup, for some, faith that Sagna would be replaced as well as required additions being made was waning.
The announcement of Alexis Sanchez changed a few perceptions but the question of 'can we remain defensively competitive?' seemed to be unanswered. Serge Aurier looked to be going elsewhere despite spending most of the summer flirting with Arsenal supporters on Instagram with 'come and get me' eyes and poolside photos of him in an Arsenal shirt. Boy did he look good in an Arsenal shirt.
However, Arsene Wenger, like so often, had different ideas and, like so often, his ideas look to be the right ones.
In July, Arsenal announced the signing of Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle United as Sagna’s replacement and handed him the famous No 2 shirt. Soon after, Arsenal agreed a deal for ex-Southampton starlet, Calum Chambers, in a bold move for a largely unproven young player but one with a little Premier League experience and another product of the excellent Southampton academy that produced current Arsenal stars, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Debuchy’s signature was met with general delight from the Arsenal support, however there have been a few pondering aloud the cost of signing Debuchy and Chambers as opposed to keeping Sagna for a few more years. Especially when that money could be spent on a defensive midfielder or striker so many crave and believe was the difference between us winning the Double last year instead of just the FA Cup.
I would argue the loss of Ramsey and Walcott put paid to our title ambitions more than the lack of a new striker or defensive midfielder, and any new signings this summer are about improvement and strengthening rather than addressing an urgent need.
If reports are to be believed, Arsenal have spent close to £28 million in signing two players to replace Sagna. While that may seem expensive, it pales in comparison to what would have been spent on loyalty bonuses, increased wages, agents fees and eventual replacements had Sagna stayed a while longer. Chambers is only going to get better and had we moved for him in two to three years' time, his purchase fee would easily have doubled.
Debuchy is the perfect signing in many ways because he has experience of the league and usurped Sagna in the France national team. When Kevin Keegan signed David James to replace David Seaman he rhetorically asked who better to replace the former England No 1 than the current England No 1. It's a fair point - who better to replace our outgoing France right back than the man who has replaced him for Les Bleus?
Two years Sagna’s junior, Debuchy will be a regular asset to the Arsenal side for up to five years. This is plenty of time to usher in the era of Jenkinson or Bellerin as first-choice right back. I am not a huge fan of loaning out players who are already an essential part of the first-team set-up as understudy to an ageing lead performer like Jenkinson was to Sagna, but I believe we have loaned him to probably the best place possible.
"Chambers will be ideal back-up to Debuchy but more than that he will also replace Sagna as our fourth centre back"
Jenkinson is a fantastic athlete who needs game time to progress but also probably needs to improve his defensive positioning and awareness. Loaning him to another London club in the Premier League, where he is almost guaranteed to start every week, is only going to benefit Arsenal. He is close enough to watch regularly, not just in matches but in training also.
When a loan looked to be on the cards I was secretly hoping for Crystal Palace or West Ham. Both have managers for whom no love is lost among the Arsenal supporters, but both managers are ones I can tactically respect. I am not a fan of overly defensive football but both Allardyce and Pulis know how to set up their teams to defend and, under either manager's tutelage, Jenkinson would have learned bundles about defensive positioning and set-plays. With his height, knowing how to better defend a set-piece would be a boon to Arsenal.
West Ham's counter-attacking style will probably suit Carl's development. He should improve defensively but West Ham’s tactics will ask him to do a lot of offensive work and improve his crossing. Carl’s crossing is arguably one of his strongest points but it’s an asset Arsenal rarely take advantage of. Playing week-in week-out will give Carl more awareness of when to cross and when not to cross.
So what of Carl’s position as understudy? That is where Chambers comes in. Here is a player who does have experience of playing regularly in that position in the Premier League - he will be ideal back-up to Debuchy but more than that he will also replace Sagna as our fourth centre back. When Jenkinson returns from his loan a better player, Chambers will most likely drop off the right-back radar and be focused entirely on his future as a centre back or defensive midfielder.
Chambers’ versatility will remain an asset to Arsenal and his exposure to the first team as a right back will enable a smoother transition to his potential role as the future first-choice centre back.
By signing Debuchy and Chambers, and then loaning out Jenkinson, Arsene has partially secured the defensive future of Arsenal with three of the four outfield defensive positions filled with English players. The 're-nationalisation' of Arsenal has continued with Chambers and the signings of Debuchy and Alexis shows a willingness to complement the British core with top-class imported talent.
The future of Arsenal looks more secure than ever and a reported £28 million on replacing Sagna looks to be a top investment by Wenger that will pay dividends for the next decade. That is frugality at its finest.