The usual doubts and pessimistic cries were not out of place when they greeted Laurent Koscielny as he arrived at Arsenal from Lorient. The club were in desperate need of a centre-back who had the strength, presence and authority to not only marshal the back-four, but someone to complement Thomas Vermaelen as well. From first appearances, Koscielny looked anything but all of those: his strength certainly wasn’t telling, despite his 6ft 1in frame, and his huge lack of experience which only amounted to one season in the top flight in France, had most wondering if this was to be another one of Arsene Wenger’s gambles that was about to go horribly wrong.
18 months removed and Koscielny is rightfully praised as the best centre-back at Arsenal – even above fan favourite Thomas Vermaelen. A settling in period was, of course, required. A number of mistakes highlighted Koscielny’s lack of experience at the highest level, but they were broken up by undoubted moments of genuine quality. Koscielny’s second season at Arsenal has proved to be a huge success for the player thus far, in spite of one of the club’s poorest seasons in recent memory. The full-back crisis at the club has seen Koscielny partner new arrival Per Mertesacker for much of the season, while Vermaelen occupied the left-back spot. Interestingly, there were many who believed Koscielny would be playing back-up to the vastly experienced German and club vice-captain Vermaelen. But his qualities shone through, and particularly in high-pressure matches; notably the 5-3 away win to Chelsea. In certainly Arsenal’s greatest night at the Emirates, Koscielny put in a performance of exceptional quality against Barcelona last season, playing a huge role in shutting out Lionel Messi for much of the game and breaking up a Barcelona attack which resulted in Arsenal’s winner.
Nigel Winterburn expressed his view that people in England are too quick to judge a player and not allow him a settling in period. But once Koscielny noticeably bulked up and became more confident in his own abilities, we’ve seen one of the most consistent centre-backs this season. The qualities that Thomas Vermaelen has been praised for possessing is equally correct in description when referring to Koscielny: he’s comfortable on the ball, able to play out of defence, and, most of all, is extremely calm in dispossessing an opponent. His reading of the game is outstanding, his pace and precision in the tackle is equally impressive, and along with the experience of those around him and the confidence of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, his game have been allowed to flourish.
Often portrayed as one of the quieter characters in the Arsenal dressing room, the President at his former club Lorient insists that here is a player whose surface is calm, but underneath is a passionate, aggressive winner. His aggressive style of playing, while keeping the attractive art of defending alive, suggests as much. He never looks to shy away from confrontation, and as has been mentioned, is extremely valuable in high-profile games.
Laurant Koscielny’s rise to one of the most important players at Arsenal is hugely impressive. An 18-month turnaround has seen an vastly inexperienced player become one of the best performers in the Premier League. An impressive feat and one which has offered him his first international cap for France.
Arsenal fans should certainly rejoice at the fact that the much troubled defensive back-line finally has some stability: a mixture of experience, leadership and Koscielny’s undoubted talent that will only greatly increase with each year at the North London club.