feeling of relief over the past few days has felt pretty strange. Not having to
stress about all of the ifs, buts and maybes of upcoming fixtures feels great
but it’s undoubtedly a feeling I’ll miss in a few weeks time. Whilst many
belittle our achievement of competing in the Champions League, it is still a
task that we somehow managed to complete.
When you look back at the season there were some
crucial moments, some good and some horrific but for me the turning point was
Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. You’re probably thinking, here we go Arsene
Wenger dropped Wojciech Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen and you’ve heard it all
before. Well I’m taking a different slant on it. The return of Laurent
Koscielny changed our season.
Whilst I crave big-money signings as much as the
next supporter, it is enjoyable watching players progress under Wenger.
Koscielny only had one full season of top-flight football under his belt
when he joined us from Lorient. He suffered with the physical aspect of the
game initially and he made mistakes that could haunt and ruin careers of
players. However, Koscielny is made of sterner stuff and he had a manager that
believed in him. He prefers to answer his critics by putting in solid
performances and doing things the right way. He also learns from mistakes,
when many others have not.
His injury at the beginning of the season really
hampered his mindset. Not only did the injury affect him, also the selection of
Thomas Vermaelen as captain played a part. It was a competition between three
centre-backs for two places but in fact it was Kos and Per Mertesacker vying
for the right to accompany our new captain in the heart of the defence.
clean sheets in the first few weeks of the season meant that he’d have to be
patient. His chance arrived at Manchester City and despite the fact we drew
that day, we played well and the understanding that seemed to be
there between him and the big German meant Wenger had one of his toughest
decisions of the season so far when we faced Chelsea at home. Wenger dropped
Mertesacker (imagine if that happened now?) and Koscielny had a shocker against
Fernando Torres, a player he had previously had in his pocket. Laurent
made his way to the bench once more. If you like stats, I’m sure you’ll be
interested to know that the partnership between Koscielny and Vermaelen never
managed to keep a clean sheet this season in six attempts and I’m pointing the
finger straight at the Belgian on that one.
The partnership between Kos and Mert has been
pivotal. Since Munich, they have conceded one goal from open play in 10
games – that is phenomenal. They’ve even bagged goals and assists. They
should be fantasy football gods. The only down side of this partnership is
Mertesacker’s lack of pace. If isolated he looks like he’s already accepted his
fate but Kos doesn’t over compensate, he holds his own position really
well. Look at when Papiss Cisse got in along the byeline in the first half on
Sunday, it would be easy to get attracted to the ball, but he held his
ground, kept with his man and danger was averted. That wouldn’t have happened
two years ago. I’d argue that the Frenchman makes Mertesacker look much better
than he is but I’m not going dwell on negatives, I’m in a positive mood.
The fact is despite our most nerve wrecking of
fixtures, Koscielny has led by example. Whether it’s intercepting passes and
springing attacks, brilliantly man marking top strikers (Robin van Persie) or throwing
his body on the line, he does what it takes and most importantly he does what
we expect of him. Not once do we question his commitment or love for our club.
Whilst those that applaud the attitude of Vermaelen for not throwing his toys
out of the pram, it was Koscielny that took it on the chin and played his way
into the side. Vermaelen can have little complaints, imagine if he confronted
Wenger (who knows he might have done), I can just see Wenger reaching for the
DVD player and pulling out TV5’s top 10 horror shows and off he’ll go with no
When it comes to displays I see few Arsenal
players that have the ability to have 10/10 performances. Koscielny has them a
lot more often than most. His performance at Newcastle United was faultless, he
was sensational against Manchester United at home – he did lose RVP for his
point blank header but it was nice to see his keeper come up with the goods.
His stats since his return to the side:
Tackle Success – 86% (23/20)
Blocks – 8
Interceptions – 26
I’m not a big fan of blocking statistics, as I
find them more often than not an act of desperation but sometimes they are
necessary if other players have let their man go free. Bizarrely seven of the
eight blocks came in our last three games – needs most, I suppose. Koscielny is
also on a tackle success streak – currently he has won his last nine tackles
and he hasn’t lost a tackle since the Everton game. As for the interceptions,
he’ll have NFL teams attempting to sign him up with those figures, that’s how
you read the game ladies and gentlemen. Seven of his interceptions came against
United at home – vital.
Clearly Laurent is a great character to have at
the club, he went from a start in the European Championships against Spain to
little action for the next few months and now we have a player who is maturing
and improving game on game and he’s still 27 years old, so there are
a few more good years in those legs. The fact is he didn’t let his spell on the
bench get the better of him, so it’ll be interesting to see how Vermaelen
reacts now the agents are back into silly season again.
Whilst I wouldn’t give Koscielny our Player of the
Season award, I would say he was the biggest factor (on the field) in us
changing our fortunes around. I grew up watching Tony Adams, so the number six
shirt carries with it a huge amount of responsibility and expectation.
Koscielny embodies everything we believe in and I want him as captain for next
season onwards. He’s earned the right, he’s our best defender and I’ve seen a
leader in him. I know fans want Jack Wilshere or Mikel Arteta but the former
still hasn’t proven his fitness and the latter may be fighting for his place,
if we get the defensive midfielder we need. We need a leader that we can rely
on and that man wears number six.
Until next Friday, enjoy your week. You won’t have
Arsenal to stress you out.