Former Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna knows that loyalty is a tricky subject in football, but when it comes to his former team-mate Mikel Arteta he believes, friendship aside, he should still be given time to turn things around at the Emirates.  

The French star, who moved from the Emirates to the Etihad when he joined Manchester City in 2014, has not enjoyed watching the Gunners make a stuttering start to the season, which has seen them lose to Brentford and Chelsea in their opening Premier League matches.

“I have to be honest, I think this season will be difficult for Arsenal,” Sagna told us. “When you compete against clubs who are spending £300m over the last few seasons, and Arsenal haven’t, it’s not rocket science to see they might struggle to keep up because it’s a big ask.

“Today, there are teams spending billions so it’s always going to be hard to compete, because it’s increasingly becoming about business rather than football. Arsenal are still a good team, but other teams at the moment know they can pick up points against them because they have some inexperienced players in the side, and they are finding that challenge difficult. Also, other sides raise their game to play at their best when they play Arsenal.”

But Sagna is pragmatic in his response to the question raised around whether Arteta should be shown the exit door, as he believes it’s too early to think about a change in the dugout and that will only cause more disruption.

“It will turn around, the question is ‘when?’” he said. “As a fan, and I am one, you want to see things happening now. But unfortunately, football doesn’t happen that way. When you build a club, it takes time to bounce back. Any single club can struggle to bounce back. It’s a problem now with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and it was for Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson left, and it’s now with Arsenal ever since Arsene Wenger left.

“It is time for patience with Arsenal. I wouldn’t like to see Mikel (Arteta) moved out. Not because he’s my friend, but I think he has something that he can bring to the club. He’s still young, and he has some great ideas. It takes confidence to build something great. It’ll come as long as the players focus.”

Sagna also believes that the players need to buy into Arteta’s approach and take on a stronger mindset, which he knows his old team-mate is trying to instil into the squad.

“The manager and the staff know what it takes, and they know they have to keep fighting and stick to the plan,” said Sagna. “The difference with big teams and players is when they concede, they don’t panic. In a squad you need someone to make you realise that if you focus on your abilities then you can win, and this is missing from Arsenal at the moment.

“But Mikel has the personality to bring confidence to the players, so I hope no matter what happens that Arsenal keep him. This is not just because he’s my friend but also because I know how well he knows the game and how he analyses football. He lives for football.

“I would go to his house to watch big football matches like El Clasico and he would discuss all the formations, strategies, and he knew everything so well. I have seen how he understands football, and he has also learnt from the best in Pep Guardiola.

“He needs time and to bring in more players, and then we’ll see him improving Arsenal.”

While the Gunners have spent more than any other club in the top flight this summer, Sagna thinks it’s the spine of the team that needs working on to give the side strength and to build on in the coming years.

He said: “We always talk about the spine. In (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang, Arsenal have a player who can lead the squad. But at the back, they have a lack of experience and at some point I think players will bully them because of this. As an opposition player, I would try and intimidate them and that’s hurting Arsenal. Even as they walk onto the pitch, from the tunnel, they are being intimidated.

“You have Granit Xhaka, who is important, and he has the personality you need in a successful team. He isn’t afraid to have a go and Arsenal need more players like him in the squad.”

As Premier League fixtures go, the next match doesn’t come much more difficult than Manchester City away, and Sagna is familiar with the Citizens and Pep Guardiola, having spent time at the club from 2014 to 2017.

While Sagna hopes a draw can be secured for Arsenal, he fears that the Citizens will prove too strong on the day.

“Firstly, I still love both clubs! I find my loyalties more with Arsenal as I spent longer there,” he admits. “I’d love both to win, but that’s obviously not possible! I just want to see a good game and I’d be happy with a draw.

“It’ll be a tough game for Arsenal, as City have a top team with experienced players. And when players need a rest, they have others to step in and play. So, my prediction is a 1-0 win for City.”

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