WTTGT Writer: Vivek Arulnathan
Laurent Koscielny put in a man of the match performance against Marseille on Wednesday to help Arsenal leapfrog their French rivals to the top of the group. It was a performance of the highest quality from the Frenchman who is slowly but steadily endearing himself to the Arsenal faithful.
He was a relatively unknown name when Arsene Wenger snapped him up for a partly 8m. With Arsenal’s defense already under immense scrutiny, the Frenchman’s signing did nothing to appease Arsenal’s fans as many felt that an inexperienced French defender was the last thing Arsenal needed to shore up their backline. Wenger on the other hand was pretty positive about his new signing and claimed that Koscielny was a quality player despite his lowly reputation.
His first few matches did little to change the views of his critics. He saw red in his league debut against Liverpool and looked a tad too nervous for someone playing in the back four. I personally felt he was overwhelmed by the physical approach in the Premier League and he struggled to keep up with the fast paced game in England. Coming from the French league which emphasized more on technique and skill, I was not really surprised to see his performances that bordered on the mediocre.
Injury to Vermaelen did not help matters either. He had to partner an equally inexperienced Djourou in defense and Arsenal fans were dreading the prospect of watching the pair in action. But Wenger backed his new signing and played him week in week out and Koscielny’s performances improved as each game passed by.
The highlight was probably the Champions League encounter against Barcelona at the Emirates. He was absolutely rock solid in defense as he made several interceptions to keep Messi and David Villa at bay. Though Arsenal went on to lose that tie at Camp Nou, it was a game in which Koscielny really proved himself and his immense talents were there for all of us to see.
He isn’t as poor in the air as some tabloids have been reporting and has held his own in set pieces. He is however one of the best readers of the game in the Premier League and his innumerable interceptions in over 12 months at Arsenal stand testimony to that. His positioning has improved in the last one year and in the absence of Vermaelen, he handled himself well in the role of defensive leader.
I also think someone like Mertesacker has helped him raise his game a few notches. With a strong physical presence alongside him, he has had the freedom to dictate play from defense and also make quick attacking runs into the opposition area. He is playing with the confidence of having a highly reliable partner in Per and that has allowed the Frenchman to play with lesser pressure and more freedom.
He is also more assured in possession this year. Last year he allowed himself to be caught in several tight spots which made him look an unreliable defender. This year though he has made the simple passes and looks content to put the ball out of play than try something flashy just to keep it in play.
If there was one drawback in him, it’s got to be his communication. It has been the main reason for many of those sloppy goals Arsenal have conceded when the Frenchman has played and no Arsenal fan would have forgotten last year’s League Cup final. He looks more comfortable with Mertesacker leading the defense alongside him and that is good news for all of us.
The problem arises when Vermaelen returns. Who should partner Mertesacker when the Belgian returns? It would be pretty idiotic to break this partnership especially if they keep up the performances for another two weeks. It would be great if Vermaelen starts at left back with Per and Kos in the middle. That’ll give us a lot of defensive stability which is extremely important as we are struggling to score goals at will.
For now though Koscielny is starting to really prove himself and his admirers are growing by the day. If he can continue to grow steadily, he will soon become a kind of cult hero at Arsenal.
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