Laurent Koscielny’s debut season in an Arsenal shirt is probably best remembered for the howler which set in motion the collapse of all collapses as Arsenal were sent tumbling out of every competition they were in. The damage this did to Wenger’s team was immeasurable and could still be felt at the start of last season as Arsenal, having lost Fabregas and Nasri, suffered four defeats in their opening seven premier league games and were hovering above the relegation zone in early October.
Robin van Persie’s never-ending purple patch and a more settled line up saw the Gunners emerge from what was the most uncertain period since Wenger took over in 1996. The Dutchman’s golden touch and more importantly sustained fitness is without question the main reason for his team’s resurgence, but that howler in the last minute of the Carling Cup final last February is perhaps the reason behind two of Arsenal’s most improved performers in 2011/2012.
Koscielny’s indecision in the dying embers of that game also featured in -Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, as their breakdown in communication famously allowed Obafemi Martins to roll the ball into an open net, condemning Arsenal to months of soul searching and even more dropped points. It’s rare these days for an Arsenal centre half to receive praise unless your name is Thomas Vermaelen, but Koscielny, despite not appearing to have the physical attributes to become a dominant defender in England really showed last year why Wenger decided to spend £10 million, pluck him from relative obscurity and now offer him a new long-term contract.
Koscielny spent four years in the lower echelons of French football with Guingamp as a right back before moving to Tours for two seasons. In his second year playing as a central defender he was named in the team of the season, Brittany based side Lorient saw the potential and gave him his chance in the French top flight. After completing only one season for Lorient, Arsenal announced his signing in July 2010.
Upon arriving in North London in 2010 nobody really knew what to expect, appearing a little on the scrawny side with an uncanny resemblance to the early depictions of Bart Simpson. He took time to settle and got sent off on his debut against Liverpool. Koscielny’s season followed a steady pattern where he would produce a couple of excellent performances followed by a mistake which invariably led to conceding a goal.
The player himself has identified improving physically as a reason for his consistency at the back this season. “You don’t have to play differently here, you just have to work on the physical side. I’ve worked a lot to do that.” Despite playing in the 8-2 demolition at Old Trafford and scoring a bizarre own goal in the defeat to Blackburn early last season Koscielny refused to let it affect his game. He is now one of the first names on Wenger’s team sheet and the player Mertesacker and Vermaelen are fighting to partner.
His performance against Barcelona at the Emirates was one of his finest displays in an Arsenal shirt, foiling Messi and co with a slew of impressive interceptions and immaculately timed slide tackles, the sort which are fast becoming his trademark. This game led to rumours that Barca were interested in signing him, which gave most Arsenal fans more concerns than the potential departure of Theo Walcott.
Sharp in the tackle with a propensity for reading danger and making well timed interceptions, the French defender with Polish ancestry arrived in London on the back of a season where he had apparently never lost a tackle. What that statistic actually means is vague and how it was calculated is anyone’s guess, but a performance like his against Manchester City in the Carling Cup certainly adds credence to the possibility as Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero were all but rendered spectators on the night as Koscielny was first to every ball, picking off each move before it gained any momentum. Surprisingly strong in aerial duels for a man his size, he has also managed to cut out his penchant for giving away penalties with a less reckless approach to winning the ball back.
A regular in the French squad Koscielny is yet to truly make his mark for Les Bleus, after starting his first international game against the United States in November. However, he did start in their quarter-final defeat against Spain and it would be folly to bet against him adding a lot more to his tally over the coming years with Arsenal.
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