Great Start To 2007/08 Campaign
Speaking exclusively to Genting, Sagna said: “I knew we had a good team and we started the season really well – we were all having fun while we were performing and we were outplaying every single team we faced, even [Manchester] United struggled to beat us.
“I believe we had the best team in the league and I think we should have been champions, but maybe we were too nice. We didn’t have a bad side and we didn’t have any nastiness in the side.
“In football, you need to identify parts of the match where you need to consolidate, dig in – there are always moments like this in a game. You have to manage games. You have to be smart.
“Sometimes, you have to stop playing, and if you have to defend for 10 minutes, you have to defend for 10 minutes no matter how boring or ugly it can be. The most important thing is winning, you have to win first.
“We were having fun. We were a bunch of friends having fun and the title race [was] in our favour for quite a long time. Everything was good.”
Eduardo Was A Big Loss
That was until Martin Taylor’s now infamous challenge on Eduardo which left the Croatian forward floored on the St. Andrew’s turf, as Sagna explained.
He continued: “From the minute we lost Eduardo – that season he was flying, he was banging in goals – we had the feeling that something was missing.
“Rather than reacting, we slipped. [There] were games which we should have won and we had big injuries in the squad.
“I injured myself in March against Chelsea and the team became less stable with other injuries. Our confidence started to drop and before you know it, the other clubs are right behind you.
“United and Chelsea had the experience of winning the title and they handled the pressure better than we did in this period. When you are chasing the team at the top it is always easier, because you know what you have to do. At some point we started looking back at who was chasing us, and we lost too many points.
“Maturity [was missing]. I was 24 and I was probably one of the oldest in the squad. At some point we needed one guy to say, ‘now we stop playing, we need to dig in and hold onto what we have or not concede for 15 minutes.’
“We needed to make that commitment on the pitch. The coach can’t come into the middle of the pitch to tell us – he can only communicate from the side.
“We lacked some nastiness in our game. We should have been more aggressive, cynical maybe. We needed a little bit of ugliness in our play. It’s not an easy thing to say, but we were too nice, too humble, and we were too honest.
“We wanted to be successful; we wanted to win. [But] there are always periods in matches where you need to be smart, key moments. If you don’t realise when these moments are happening, they will come back and haunt you. That’s what happened.
“The Birmingham game is a good example of this. We were beating them 2-1 and then things went downhill.
“When William [Gallas] stayed on the pitch at the end of the game, that brought a bit more tension to the squad, and it was quite difficult for us to react because we were not used to being under so much pressure.
“Everyone started blaming him and there were a lot of arguments because we didn’t win the game. There was unnecessary tension following this incident and slowly we slipped into a bad run we didn’t want to experience, and we couldn’t stop it.”
Sagna hailed then-manager Arsene Wenger’s influence on the squad, but admitted that a number of factors – including the injury to Eduardo and a personal loss – proved insurmountable.
“[Wenger] always stayed very close to the players,” Sagna continued. “He always tried to be positive and give the players his confidence. He had so much faith in the group.
“We would always talk; before training, after training, he used to come to speak about anything.
“He had full confidence in the squad. After the Birmingham match, he was positive that we would be able to recover from the situation.
“When you lose a player like we did with such a horrible injury, as a player you feel guilty because we wanted to do it for him as well as Arsene.
“We tried everything, but, unfortunately, we lost something. I can’t put my finger on what it was.
“We were a bit shocked that we failed, and we knew Manchester United were closing in on us. It was a real blow to lose Eduardo, I think it stayed in everyone’s mind.
“Personally, I lost my brother, which was another blow. Everyone knew something happened to me, and slowly you start being affected by it differently.
“We didn’t react. We couldn’t react. We were thinking maybe we can come back to the form we had before the match against Birmingham, but we didn’t.
“We only lost three games that season and if we had turned some of those draws into wins, beaten United once, we would have won the title.
“It’s hard to analyse. It’s so difficult to identify why we didn’t finish as champions because we had the best squad.”
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