This piece has obviously been prompted by the Carling Cup debacle that was Obafemi Martins’ shock winner for Birmingham on Sunday, that much is clear, but I may profess to having been in possession of some lingering doubts over Laurent Koscielny’s long-term suitability to a club challenging for the Premier League title for quite some time now. I may, of course, come to eat these words in the future, but will Koscielny prove an astute buy for the club? Or is he destined to never fulfil his potential?
Arsenal threw away the Carling Cup in a way it seems only Arsenal are capable of these days. Many have blamed the young Polish goalkeeper with the unpronounceable name, Wocjiech Szczesny for the error that gifted Birmingham their winner, yet the French centre-half, the subject of this piece, is equally as culpable in my opinion.
Szczesny may be responsible for a rudimentary failure to communicate his presence to Koscielny and also of an element of poor handling ability, yet few goalkeepers would expect an established defender to botch a clearance as poorly as Koscielny unquestionably did.
Koscielny is most definitely a talented defender. His exemplary performance against Barcelona in this season’s Champions League first leg tie alone should be seen as proof of this. Yet his calamitous and highly-publicised error against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final only serves to highlight the soft underbelly that currently resides within this supremely talented Arsenal squad.
Man Utd have stumbled through the season barely breaking out of second gear. The fact that they haven’t needed to so far is as much a testament to their know-how in the art of winning as it is to their rivals deficiencies. This Arsenal side, for all its qualities, just doesn’t know how to win when it matters most yet and it’s a skill you have to acquire over years of success; something Man Utd seem to rely upon more than anything these days, their ability to grind out results.
Koscielny looks to be a vulnerable target in the air for me. He’s fairly quick on the deck and good with the ball at his feet, as you might expect from an Arsene Wenger signing. However, the club’s finest player at centre-half this season, in the absence of the deeply missed Thomas Vermaelen, has been Johan Djourou. Sebastien Squillaci has looked a weak link in the side when he’s played and he’s been usurped recently by the Swiss centre-half Djourou. The chopping and changing nature of his partner probably hasn’t helped Koscielny adjust as quickly as he had hoped it has to be said.
The French defender has also had to deal with two suspensions for sending offs against Liverpool and Newcastle this term and a few niggling injuries along the way, something which may have contributed in some way to affecting his adjustment to the English game and his heretofore inconsistent performances.
The return of Thomas Vermaelen to the side may be exactly what Koscielny needs; a stewarding presence beside him. But if we went on the merits of this season’s performances alone, then in my opinion, it would be Djourou that deserved to play alongside the Belgian at the heart of defence and not Koscielny, as his performance against Barcelona has proved to be the exception rather than the rule throughout the course of his debut season so far. The similar styles of Vermaelen and Koscielny may also put Wenger off playing them together in the immediate future.
He arrived somewhat under the radar this summer for a fee in the region of £8m from French second division side FC Lorient. It’s worth noting though that some players simply take more time to adjust to the rigours of the English game than others and at just 25 years of age, he does admittedly have time on his side. May I reiterate that this article hasn’t been written solely with the intention of putting down a player after a high-profile error, merely that it was the catalyst for some long-held views on the player.
The one area that Arsenal still look weak is at the back. The goalkeeping debate shows no signs of abating in the near future, and Koscielny’s gaffe, the one which all but ended Arsenal’s hopes of ending their six-year wait without a trophy, in the immediate future at least, mean that the debate about the need to strengthen at centre half is sure to rumble on well into the summer.
It was a bad mistake, there’s no getting away from the fact that it was; but players at the back are always likely to be thrust into the limelight for making them due to the nature of the position and we can‘t judge him on that alone. But I do doubt and have done for some time now, the longevity to the Koscielny signing. He simply doesn’t look like the solution to Arsenal’s propensity to capitulate at the back.
He looks very much like a player still finding his feet in the English game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that the jury is still out on Koscielny‘s ability, I’d argue that when Vermaelen returns, Wenger may have a very different partner in mind for the Belgian than Koscielny.
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