Bacary Sagna has been one of Arsene Wenger’s best signings – reliable, consistent, rarely error prone and not to mention, loyal. In his first season (2007/2008), Sagna was named in the PFA team of the year and hasn’t lost his place in the Arsenal team ever since.
However, the French international is now 29, approaching his thirties, and after suffering two, yes two, broken legs last season, Sagna’s performances may be affected once he’s fully fit again.
Arsenal have 20 year old and childhood Arsenal fan, Carl Jenkinson in their ranks who is seen as the long term replacement of the Frenchman, however, he still hasn’t shown that he’s ready for the task ahead even though his crossing ability, drive and determination is to admire.
Arsenal however, have another player capable of playing at right back who I feel should be the long term replacement of Bacary Sagna, and his name is Nico Yennaris.
Yennaris is 19, born in England to a Greek Cypriot father and a Chinese mother – the teenager is capable of not only playing right back but also in midfield (his natural position) and the centre of defense as well which makes him quite a useful utility player and like Jenkinson, Yennaris is also a childhood Arsenal fan.
Having signed a professional contract in 2010, Yennaris has made 3 first team appearances for Arsenal as of now and in my opinion, even in such little game time, is the better right back, no – better player even, between him and Jenkinson.
I may be jumping the gun on Jenkinson especially as he has loads of time to develop and is very young but Yennaris is younger and has looked far more comfortable at right back than the former Charlton man.
Yennaris, an England U19 defender as well, made his professional debut starting against Bolton in the Carling Cup, replaced an injured Francis Coquelin in the FA Cup clash against Leeds United and came on as a substitute for Johan Djourou, making his Premier League debut against Manchester United (notably up against Nani) – in all 3 games playing as a right back, he impressed.
Yennaris was good on the attack, intelligent, pacy, quick, confident, hardworking, composed as well as defensively sound. He reminds me of Sagna himself, only faster.
“I like Nico because he has 100 percent focus, good physical qualities, good intelligence, good reading of the game and personality. He is a guy who, believe me, will make a big career. He has what it takes to be always better, his whole career will improve because he has the mental abilities of somebody who is suited to the top level.” - Arsene Wenger.
Speaking on his Premier League debut against Manchester United, Wenger added:
“He is a midfielder. To come on as a right back against Nani, who is one of the top players in the league, and produce the kind of performance he produced is absolutely outstanding.”
That was one thing which certainly impressed me – he wasn’t fazed making his Premier League debut against the reigning champions at the time, Manchester United. Not one bit. Just like Wojciech Szczesny and Francis Coquelin weren’t on their Premier League debuts.
His stats against Manchester United tell us the whole story, let’s take a look at them – he completed 17/18 passes, 3/3 attacking third passes, created 2 key chances, completed 3/4 tackles, made 1 interception and made 3/3 clearances. Quite a solid Premier League debut.
Interesting to note that his 2 goalscoring chances created came from crosses (above picture) which shows that he can provide an attacking threat while another thing of note was Yennaris’ tidy passing, completing 94% successfully (below picture.)
“What I like about him is that he always looks forward when he has the ball. He’s a right back who wants to play and bring others into the game – there aren’t many full backs who always do that, but for me it makes a massive difference.” – Arsenal captain, Robin van Persie.
As you can deduce, he is highly rated and rightly so. He isn’t a natural right back, but he has certainly adapted to the role and shown that he can indeed play there for years to come.
“I think I am [suited to playing there] because obviously I wasn’t the tallest to be playing at centre back and I’m quite quick. I can move up and down the line quite well so I think I probably am quite suited, yes.” – Nico Yennaris.
Hence, this is why I feel Yennaris should be considered the understudy to Sagna until the latter’s peak inevitably comes to an end. He has shown that he is more confident and composed than Jenkinson and has what it takes, as Arsene Wenger stated – “somebody who is suited to the top level.”
As I wrote this, I was late to hear the news that Yennaris has signed a new long term extension at Arsenal that will keep him at the club until 2014 which has not only delighted me but told me how highly Wenger rates him. There may be first team plans for the U19 defender in the near future, who I believe, has all the makings to be an Arsenal legend. Let’s hope his time comes soon.